Director: Guy Ritchie
Cast: Charlie Hunnam, Jude Law, Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey, Djimon Honsou, Eric Bana
Running Time: 126 minutes
Release Date: May 19
Sigh. Can we stop straining to construct multi-stranded cinematic universes and return to the business of concentrating on making a good film? Is that really beyond us at this point? The planet is dying and a psychopath could trigger Armageddon any day now so I know I’m asking a lot when it comes to people in power learning lessons and applying caution, but if any high-ranking studio executive is reading this: it really doesn’t have to be this way.
Fittingly enough, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword has a crown in its sights, one that belongs to last year’s violently scattershot Suicide Squad. Guy Ritchie’s foray into ye olde adventuring results in what will surely register as the single most at-war-with-itself feature of 2017. Many scoffed at the choice of director when announced, fearing he’d turn Arthur Pendragon into a cheeky chappie ruffian and go all Lock, Stock and the Sword in the Stone. That he indeed does this should come as little surprise. That he pulls his punches and that’s a large part of the problem here? That…yeah, that’s unexpected.
Sure, you get cockney rhyming slang – ‘razzle dazzle’ in particular feels as anachronistic as Perseus sporting a buzz cut in the Clash of the Titans remake – a David Beckham cameo – hey, why the hell not – and a rake of ‘oi oi, mate!’ shenanigans but you also get a wildly grim-dark leaden-paced Serious Origin Story in which a hero will rise and presumably learn a lesson or two along the way. Oh, and there’s a Lovecraft-style tribute to the Weird Sisters from Macbeth, a gargantuan snake, and one character with the ability to morph into the artwork from a 1980s heavy metal album.
That might sound fun but Ritchie does a sterling job in strangling the potential out of even the campiest elements. The now standard washed-out gunmetal grey colour palette doesn’t help, nor do occasional interruptions of weightless CGI-drenched combat, one such climactic scene setting a new standard for indecipherable, headache-inducing action. He’s also much too fond of having characters spout exposition about what they’re going to do whilst quick-quick-quick cutting around it, depicting said act that’s still being bantered about onscreen. The pervading feeling of ugly compromise between artistic vision – well, as much as you can hope for in a conveyor belt movie such as this one – and studio influence hangs heavy. As such, Legend of the Sword feels like two or three different scripts smashed together.
Of the cast, Charlie Hunnam follows up something of a revelatory turn in The Lost City of Z as Generic Ripped Hollywood Hunk #247, which is a shame but his Arthur is written to be obnoxious and irritating from start to finish, so it’s unlikely that a seasoned character actor could have done much better. Jude Law is effective as all good players are when allowed to chew especially villainous scenery, and he really does try to elevate the material and create some sense of conflict but again… script. Speaking of, what an odd affair that almost never uses the word ‘Excalibur’ but seems to be on some mission to cram ‘sword’ into every second or third sentence.
Better luck with the Aladdin remake, I guess?