Review: Guy Ritchie’s ‘King Arthur’ Wields His Stylized Excali-bore

'King Arthur: Legend of the Sword' (2017) - Movie Review

‘King Arthur’ Gets Lost on Its Generic Destiny Quest

Director Guy Ritchie is well-versed in injecting his films with such dynamic, stylized action. From Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch, Sherlock Holmes and The Man from U.N.C.L.E., it’s apparent what visual splendor we’re in store for when Ritchie’s helming a project. The question at hand, however, is whether or not his hyper-kinetic energy can co-exist in the latest attempt at the King Arthur legend.

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword takes a stab at presenting an origin story at the Arthurian legend. After the death of his father King Uther (Eric Bana), a very young Arthur is swept away to safety. Taking a page of Moses’ book, he’s sent down river and taken in by the resident brothel. Unaware of his lineage, he matures into a ripped, street-smart young man, maneuvering his way along the back streets of Londinium. Thanks to a sharply edited montage that screams signature Ritchie, we have no issues understanding who he’s become over two decades (at least).

Meanwhile, Camelot’s been overrun by his villainous uncle, Vortigern (Jude Law). He’s your typical tyrant – turned on by the power of fear. At the same time, he fears the one who’s destined to overthrow him. The inevitable clash is nothing shy of a medieval Hamlet or The Lion King. That’s one of the primary problems that lies with King Arthur. Except for its signature visuals, it’s difficult to pinpoint any sort of distinctive identity by the end of the film. After Sherlock Holmes and its sequel, Ritchie knows how to get a solid performance out of Law. But here, he’s sadly just running through the one-dimensional motions.

Many filmmakers have tried to tackle King Arthur from different angles over the years. Whether it be a more seasoned take in First Knight, starring Sean Connery and Richard Gere, or a more historical approach in 2004’s King Arthur, there’s always some hook to draw audiences in. What exactly is King Arthur: Legend of the Sword? When it’s not trying to be Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur, it begins to think it’s World of Warcraft. Sometimes it’ll throw away the WoW factor and go head-on as a Zack Snyder slo-mo PG-13 hack fest. What an identity crisis! Though to be honest, King Arthur was initially pitched as a six-film series. It’s not hard to imagine that elements from several chapters all jumbled together into a single film.

SEE ALSO: Review: King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is Unnecessary, yet Forgettable Fun

For nearly two hours, it’s easy to forget we’re watching a King Arthur movie. Thank you title for reiterating that fact. Otherwise, it’s nothing short of a run-of-the-mill medieval revenge fest with an assortment of mainstream faces. Whenever, King Arthur takes chances is allowed to be a pure Ritchie-fest, the carpet’s immediately pulled away. Where’s the fun in playing it safe too many times to count? It’s the moments when Ritchie can be Ritchie combined with Daniel Pemberton’s electric score that we can actually start having fun.

And once again, Charlie Hunnam (Sons of Anarchy) is looking for his breakout lead role on the silver screen. But after Pacific Rim and now King Arthur, Hunnam can’t catch a break from a slew of vanilla roles. He’s a fine actor on the small screen. Too bad the screenwriters can’t push him to the next level with better written roles. At least he can have some thrills swinging a glowing sword around from time to time.

King Arthur has such a concrete ensemble, yet no one is given the go-ahead to shine. They’re all pulling at Excalibur without any luck. Even period piece veterans like Eric Bana (Troy), Djimon Hounsou (Gladiator), Aidan Gillen (Game of Thrones) and Katie McGrath (Merlin) have all seen better material. Astrid Berges-Frisbey (Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides) plays the Mage (Guinevere in earlier drafts), which beats to film’s conflicting World of Warcraft tone. For the most part, there’s ample potential amongst the ensemble. Still, there’s only so much a generic script can move the needle with these vets.

If King Arthur concentrated more control of Ritchie’s style over substance mindset rather than floating aimlessly, we might have had a possible franchise in the works here. Sadly, the re-imagined destiny of Arthur and Excalibur is relegated to an Exacli-bore.

Written by
Matt Marshall has been reviewing films since 2003, starting with "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King." He specializes in home media, including 4K UHD, Blu-ray as well as box office analysis. He has a B.A. in Communications/Journalism from St. John Fisher College and resides in Rochester, NY.

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