Release date: 19th May 2017/Watch the trailer here
If there’s one film that we could probably do without, it’s yet another half-hearted attempt at tackling the epic myth of King Arthur – but if there’s one film that we could definitely do without, it’s director Guy Ritchie’s half-hearted attempt at tackling the epic myth of King Arthur. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what we’ve been given: King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is the first film of a proposed six-film franchise (although this is a number that is currently looking very, very optimistic).
Legend of the Sword is more or less a King Arthur origin story: after being cast away on a boat as a young child, Arthur (Charlie Hunnam) is raised in a brothel in Londinium, unaware that his father was the rightful king, Uther Pendragon (Eric Bana). After a chaotic prologue details the overthrowing of Camelot and Pendragon by power-hungry Vortigern (Jude Law), the film whiplashes without warning from big-battle fantasy-epic into full-on Guy Ritchie mode. This is, after all, the director who made a name for himself with Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, and their influence is strongly felt throughout King Arthur. Arthur has made a name for himself by running the backstreets of Londinium with his friends – with names like ‘Wet Stick’ (Kingsley Ben-Adir) and ‘Back Lack’ (Neil Maskell) – and their introduction is made up of fast cuts and faster talking, in true Ritchie style.
It’s not dissimilar, then, to Ritchie’s equally fast-cut and fast-talking Sherlock Holmes movies; although the reason why those films tended to work so well was largely down to Robert Downey Jr.’s charismatic leading performance. Charlie Hunnam, on the other hand, is the polar opposite of charismatic: he may look like a leading man, but he certainly can’t act like one. Clearly, however, acting wasn’t a high priority for Ritchie – why else would he allow the pivotal pulling-the-sword-from-the-stone moment be sabotaged by a truly terrible cameo from friend and former footballer David Beckham? There are a few good actors here somewhere – Jude Law, Djimon Hounsou as Bedivere, Aidan Gillen as ‘Goose Fat’ Bill – but they’re all more or less on autopilot in roles that aren’t particularly interesting or well-written. Still, at least they got a slightly better deal than any of the female characters, all of whom are either prostitutes, seductive mermaids, or killed off after getting to speak five words. The only exception to this rule is the nameless mage (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey) who teams up with Arthur – but on an acting scale of 1 to Charlie Hunnam, she’s closer to the Hunnam end.
A lack of any likeable or well-developed characters to root for or care about makes the rest of King Arthur all the more exasperating. The formulaic, predictable plot (Arthur pulls sword from stone; is at first reluctant; training montage; big battle; roll credits) is all too evident, and Ritchie leans heavily on his love of cross-cutting to the point where it is literally the only interesting thing that Legend of the Sword has to offer. Much like Hunnam, it loses its initial charm very quickly, and it’s used far too often to be effective, until it begins to feel like Ritchie doesn’t really know how to film an action scene without it. That may well be true, because the battles that should be (at least slightly) epic are instead dark, shaky, effects-laden messes with more cuts than Taken 3 and soundtracked to a score by Daniel Pemberton that could have been perfect in the right film, but here feels glaringly out of place.
It’s quite possible that the large scale the legend of King Arthur requires simply overwhelmed Ritchie. The film certainly works best when it keeps to more familiar territory for the director, but even then there’s little disguising what a shockingly poor effort this is. Forget about another five King Arthur films: at this point, even one sequel is looking unlikely, as much as the non-ending of Legend of the Sword would like to convince you otherwise.