The maddeningly inconsistent King Arthur: Legend of the Sword demonstrates that filmmaker Guy Ritchie has not lost his powers, precisely. Rather, he seems to misplace them from time to time.
The 400-Word Review
King Arthur: The Legend of the Sword
By Sean Collier
May 16, 2017
This can be true of the alleged auteur from film to film, as his under-appreciated reboot of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was charming and clever, while his “Sherlock Holmes” franchise is tired and obvious. It can also be the case within the same film, as is this case with his take on a Arthurian origin story.
Sequences of the film are gripping and technically effective, particularly as Ritchie ratchets up the speed; there are stretches that cover more territory than full “Hobbit” movies, which King Arthur reduces to a quick-cut montage, making for an undeniably memorable few minutes of cinema. Unfortunately, they’re often followed by bone-dry stretches of exposition and pontificating which accomplish little and will engage no one.
But every now and then, dinosaur-sized war elephants show up. So there’s that.
Arthur (Charlie Hunnam) is a streetwise orphan, raised in a brothel after his father (Eric Bana) and mother (Poppy Delevingne) were killed by a supernatural force and his sneering uncle Vortigern (Jude Law) ascended to the throne. When the mythical sword Excalibur makes an unexpected appearance, though, Vortigern is determined to locate his long-lost nephew — to ensure that the lad never rises to power.
The performances are fine, although the appeal of Hunnam, a “Sons of Anarchy” veteran, remains lost on me. And while the slow parts are slow — there are at least a half-dozen times when Law is forced to torpidly wax on this subject or that while his hapless scene partner must struggle to show interest — the dazzling parts are dazzling enough that King Arthur could be called a mild success. (It’s certainly better than the similarly named Antoine Fuqua film from 2004.)
Unfortunately, this King Arthur is also a repository for regressive and diminishing ways for movies to treat female characters. None is of any consequence (with the possible exception of The Mage, who is mostly tokenized), and many are used as pure objects; a repeated plot point concerns a veritable wishing well that is activated when the claimant literally murders a female loved one and tosses her body into the water. Come for the action and style, if you like, but be prepared for some utter offal.
My Rating: 5/10
Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at pittsburghmagazine.com/afterdark