King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, 2017.
Directed by Guy Ritchie
Starring Charlie Hunnam, Jude Law, Astrid Bergès-Frisbey, Djimon Hounsou, Aidan Gillen, Annabelle Wallis, Hermione Corfield, Katie McGrath, Millie Brady, Georgina Campbell, Poppy Delevingne, Eline Powell, Kamil Lemieszewski, Michael McElhatton, Mikael Persbrandt, David Beckham, Freddie Fox, Peter Ferdinando, Geoff Bell, Neil Maskell, Tom Wu, Kingsley Ben-Adir, and Eric Bana.
Robbed of his birthright, Arthur comes up the hard way in the back alleys of the city. But once he pulls the sword from the stone, he is forced to acknowledge his true legacy – whether he likes it or not.
It’s guaranteed that whatever your expectations are for King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, it’s nothing in comparison to what’s actually in store. Just another reason marketing should be ignored, as to whether a movie looks good or bad isn’t necessarily always the issue, but more so that it’s usually never a reflection of the actual product. The most basic summary one can ascribe to this take on the famed sword and the stone tale is that it feels like video games Assassin’s Creed and God of War got together and had a cinematic baby.
There’s even an assassination sequence during the middle that is given an entire 20 minutes and makes for a better Assassin’s Creed movie than the blunder that was Assassin’s Creed. The movie also opens with a massive battle inside a tower atop a humongous elephant-thing where a character makes a daring leap from a bridge to some climbing material, all looking as if you’re watching someone play a medieval version of God of War. This might be the best video game movie ever made and it’s not even based on a game. I also haven’t even mentioned the Excalibur sword abilities, which basically transform King Arthur (Charlie Hunnam of Sons of Anarchy fame) into the cinematic equivalent of a gaming ‘rage mode’, teleporting him all over a given battlefield laying absolute waste to the numerous generic enemies in his path.
That’s not to say director Guy Ritchie (The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Sherlock Holmes, and set to helm Disney’s upcoming live-action remake of Aladdin) is aping these franchises, but rather that he is (probably even unintentionally) giving King Arthur: Legend of the Sword a direct shot of adrenaline by utilizing the playbook of action-adventure video games. It’s not the only trick up his sleeve, however, as the British filmmaker naturally offers up all of his signature touches; numerous scenes utilize rapid-cut editing techniques as a stylistic method to present elements of a scene anachronistically. To be fair, by about the third time this happens it wears its welcome feeling vapid and only there to mask the fact that this interpretation of the legendary folklore is not focused on drama or emotional stakes at all. On the contrary, though, it makes for a cleverly unique way to speed run through the childhood years of Arthur, quickly hitting each important beat.
Also, there is unexpectedly a large amount of humor peppered throughout most of these sequences, depicting Arthur as a smart-ass uninterested in cooperating with the rebels or accepting his destiny even after he pulls the magical sword from the stone. It goes without saying that King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is a complete exercise in style over substance, so it’s pleasant to report that the comedic banter heightens the entertainment value. The movie still has its dark moments (we’re talking bizarre family sacrifices to mysterious octopus looking monstrosities that can grant unprecedented levels of power to tyrannical kings), so if anything, it is constantly shifting tones successfully resulting in madcap fun.
All of this comes together to make for a spin on King Arthur that is anything but your standard medieval fantasy adventure. Not only is it surprising just how much of a Guy Ritchie film the journey feels like for also being under Hollywood restrictions, but the visual direction is imaginative as bright colors pop off the screen set to the backdrop of bleak medieval battlefield color palettes. Anytime King Arthur activates Excalibur and goes on a rampage the movie takes advantage of those fantasy elements to create something visually splendid, but there are also quite a few mid-battle tracking shots floating around combat areas as Arthur makes move after move. If that wasn’t enough, the mage Guinevere is also capable of some stunning magical feats due to her seemingly telepathic link between animals, and thankfully is not wasted as a lame cliché romantic interest. Essentially, there is a hell of a lot to look at and bask in throughout the two hours of almost nonstop action. Furthermore, that unwillingness to let up on the chaos and present it in such a hyperactive fashion allows the ongoing revolution to unfold with hypnotic force.
With all of that mentioned, it might be crazy to believe, but I still haven’t touched on all of the goods King Arthur: Legend of the Sword brings to the Roundtable, as the soundtrack is a fitting medieval wallop of awesome. All of the appropriate instruments you would expect from a soundtrack are here filtered through a rock-ish vibe paced at the same breakneck speed as the movie, with each individual tracks adding something memorable to each scene. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself sitting through the credits just to hear the soundtrack cycle through the many numerous notable pieces by Daniel Pemberton.
The cast is also definitely above average, with Charlie Hunnam actually able to make more serious moments resonate with body language and facial expressions, while opposite him is Jude Law as his power-hungry false King Vortigern who knows how to bark orders, commit sinful atrocities and put on a resting bitch face for maximum effect. Djimon Hounsou and Aidan Gillen also stand out in supporting roles as King Arthur’s uprising companions, as both actors have also dabbled in similar genre fare. Again, this isn’t a movie interested in a narrative at all, so it’s really only King Arthur that has any sort of character development, but credit Guy Ritchie for having the skill to get the bare minimum of emotion necessary for the movie to function without becoming an incoherent mess. Even still, there are some confusing elements that don’t really make sense until you either ponder the situation or wait until the story randomly becomes more clear.
Nevertheless, what an absolutely pleasant, refreshing surprise that King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is anything but generic. For some, the style may go overboard into extreme levels of overindulgent territory, but even the film’s most ardent haters will be hard-pressed to deny that there is a great degree of fun to be found. Sure, the story doesn’t leave much of anything interesting to talk about, but the blockbuster is a wonderfully visual and sonic pleasure to behold. King Arthur: Legend of the Sword may not be the king of 2017 blockbusters, but it is the first unexpected hit of the summer movie season.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★