King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (aka Knights of the Roundtable: King Arthur) review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
Don’t bother looking for any historically accurate elements in Legend of the Sword. This is not the textbook version of King Arthur you read about in literature class, but the amped up comic book adaptation you’d read between classes. You know the one; the version where giant elephants plow through castles, wizards cast spells of incineration on armies, martial artists spring from dojos and kings wield magical swords in times of war. It’s all very loud, overblown and slickly edited with Guy Ritchie’s trademark directing style. At least, for the first six minutes.
Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur could use more Guy Ritchie and less Zack Snyder. The film is at its best when utilizing Richie’s familiar filmmaking tactics of staging heists and following our heroes on a chaotic chase. It’s as if he took the cool elements of Snatch and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, applied to the rather dreary sword and sorcery genre. But when Ritchie doesn’t have his fast flair on display, his picture settles into the typical and tired elements of your average summer blockbuster.
Charlie Hunnam steps into the role of a muscle-bound Arthur, performing greatly with his fists, despite stumbling with his tongue. Having lost his parents of royalty in a mutiny, the king-to-be grew up in a village brothel, quickly told in montage without much fat. While the film does glaze over this origin of his life, there are still far too many flashbacks of his parents’ deaths, replayed almost as much as the Zapruder film in JFK. You’ll get to see every angle of this tragic pathos where an evil family member takes out Arthur’s mom and dad, the only big reveal being that of the origins for the sword in the stone. No grassy knoll though.
The current king of Londinium is Vortigern, played by a surprisingly subtle and sinister Jude Law. He is conspiring with a disgusting octopus creature to attain more magical powers to rule over Londinium and eventually take out the pesky Arthur and his band of rebels. He has his moments, but never really comes into his own as a villain. This is mostly because we never get to see him jump into combat, summoning a CGI demon to fight his battles for him for climactic showdown.
Since most of the movie is a cavalcade of computer graphics, Arthur must team up with a mage (Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey) to counter many of Vortigern’s armies and magical powers. I assume the mage is Guinevere, but she is never once referred to by name. When not making a weak attempt at jumping in on the witty script, she spends most of the movie casting spells from the shows of birds and giant snakes. Like most of the supporting cast, strong as they are, everyone exists for the sole purpose of Arthur without much personality of their own.
The movie continuously speeds up and pumps on the brakes, never settling for either Ritchie’s slick style or an executive’s wet dream of special effects galore. It’s as if Ritchie was trying appease the younger teens of the audience with the inclusion of Arthur swinging his sword in slow motion in CGI environments against CGI enemies. I’d rather see Ritchie’s more true vision than the compromise presented on screen here. I know he can do better than just standard sword and sorcery epics and it’s not on display in this video game of a movie.