King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (2017)
Directed by: Guy Ritchie
Premise: An origin story based on the English legend. King Uther (Eric Bana) is murdered by his brother Vortigern (Jude Law) who assumes the throne. Uther’s infant son escapes but when he is grown up Arthur (Charlie Hunnam) is recruited by a resistance movement.
What Works: There have been quite a few King Arthur movies and television programs and Legend of the Sword earns some distinction in this subgenre and among Hollywood event pictures. The film was directed by Guy Ritchie and it boasts the filmmaker’s signature style. Like his other films, King Arthur includes kinetic visuals with lots of camera movement and unusual angles. It also features a nonlinear editing style; set pieces leap between past and present and this film has some of the most ambitious use of editing in any Ritchie film. Ritchie is also known for the use of music that complements his rock-and-roll visual style and King Arthur features an unusual score by Daniel Pemberton as well as some well placed songs. Guy Ritchie’s films are often about groups of guys as seen in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch and Sherlock Holmes. In this telling of the Arthur legend, the once and future king grows up on the streets of Londinium with his friends Wet Stick and Black Lack (Kingsley Ben-Adir and Neil Maskell) and the three of them seem like buddies who grew up together in a rough neighborhood rather than the stodgy characters usually found in a period piece. There is also an effective relationship between Black Lack and his son Blue (Bleu Landau). These relationships give the movie a few genuine human moments. They also allow for comedy and unlike a lot of superhero movies King Arthur has a welcome sense of humor. This film further differentiates itself from other Hollywood event pictures by how weird it is. This film has a vibe that is unlike other tent pole productions and it frequently includes bizarre visuals. Whatever its other faults (which are considerable) this movie is unique in the cinema marketplace.
What Doesn’t: King Arthur: Legend of the Sword suffers from too much of everything. The cast includes too many characters but not enough characterization. A lot of people suddenly enter into this story but it’s not clear who they are or how they relate to anyone else. This is especially true of the supernatural characters. The film begins with a prologue sequence in which King Uther defends Camelot against an invasion by the mages. It’s not clear what’s going on; the prologue is a bunch of fighting that doesn’t mean anything and later exposition intended to fill in the background doesn’t makes matters any clearer. There are also appearances by sea witches and the Lady of the Lake but they come out of nowhere and their presence sometimes feel out of place in the movie. This is a fantasy story with enchanted swords and fantastic beasts but the magical elements clash with the gritty style of the rest of the picture. Legend of the Sword is about Arthur becoming a king but the film offers very little about who he is as a person or as a leader. He has the birthright to become the king but there’s nothing in the film to suggest why he would inspire others to follow him. In fact, Arthur repeatedly rejects his destiny and there’s no clear reason why he changes his mind. Part of the film’s storytelling failures are a result of a plot that lacks character defining beats but it’s also a result of Guy Ritchie’s filmmaking style. Some key moments are presented in montage and so there is no dramatic build up and pay off. The frantic editing also impacts the action sequences. The movie is certainly kinetic but at the cost of continuity. The film is so fragmented that it frequently feels like a series of disconnected images instead of a coherent whole.
Bottom Line: King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is an ambitious attempt to retell a familiar story. It is a deeply flawed movie but it’s also unique and energetic and occasionally bonkers. The movie is a mess but it’s a mess that’s holds the viewer’s attention.
Episode: #650 (June 4, 2017)