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King Arthur: Legend of the Sword Movie Review

You know you’re in deep trouble when a movie about King Arthur starts going downhill immediately after the sword gets pulled from the stone. Such is the case though with King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, which after a rather fun and frenetic first act, descends into a painful, messy slog for most of the movie’s remaining two hour runtime.
I mean let’s face it, between being yet another hopeful Warner Brothers franchise based on a public domain property, and the repeated delays in release date, expectations for King Arthur: Legend of the Sword weren’t exactly high to begin with, but even I had some faint hopes, if only because it’s the first major adaptation of Arthurian legend made by Hollywood in more than a decade, since the last ill-fated King Arthur movie. I can’t help but wonder how long we’ll have to wait for the next attempt for a big budget King Arthur movie after this misfire.

The movie opens with an extended prologue, detailing how Arthur’s father, the warrior king Uther Pendragon, was betrayed and usurped by his brother Vortigern, with the young Arthur the only survivor of the violent coup. Raised in a brothel, and coming of age as rough, but noble street tough, Arthur has no clue about his royal background – at least until he pulls the sword from the stone, proving himself the rightful King of Britain, and earning the ire of his uncle Vortigern, who isn’t going to give up the throne without a fight. Lines will be drawn, blood will be spilled, and before it’s over, it will be decided what kind of man Arthur will be, and what kind of kingdom Britain will become.

To the movie’s credit, the first act of King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is actually fairly entertaining, perhaps because it’s the part of the only part of the movie that lets Guy Richie do what he does best, playing fast and loose with narrative structure and a cast of colorful scoundrels. I wasn’t kidding though that the instant that Arthur pulls the sword from the stone, all that momentum comes to a screeching halt, and the movie never recovers. I peg this down to a number of reasons, ranging from the fact it turns into yet a painfully generic hero’s journey origin story we now see play out a dozen times every year, to the needless subplots that do little more than add confusion to an already muddled narrative.
King Arthur: Legend of the Sword also isn’t helped by a cast that alternates between utterly unimpressive to woefully miscast. Charlie Hunnam escapes the fate of playing the blandest King Arthur in living memory only thanks to Clive Owen turn in the last mishandled King Arthur movie, while Djimon Hounsou gives probably the liveliest performance among the supporting cast. Chief on the woefully miscast end of the spectrum is Astrid Berges-Frisbey, as a Guinivere so bland I don’t think the movie ever mentions her by name, and whose performance is most notable for her struggle with the English language.
About the only member of the cast really giving a performance worth mentioning is Jude Law as the villain Vortigern, who is doing his best to channel his inner Alan Rickman or Jeremy Irons by serving up enough ham to hide the stench of this turkey. It doesn’t work, but I have to give Jude Law tremendous credit for trying. If everyone else was chewing as much scenery as he was, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword might have been more watchable than it is.
Not even Guy Ritchie at the helm managed to bring enough of his unique style to the movie to make King Arthur: Legend of the Sword watchable, though I think most of that may have been out of his hands given the movie shows signs of some extensive reshoots and choppy editing. Everything past the first act of the film is pretty much what you’d expect from another cookie cutter origin story based off a public domain story, ranging from a CGI filled climax that once again apes The Lord of the Rings trilogy to the hint that we’ll finally get what we expect from a movie about King Arthur – things like Camelot, questing, and even Merlin – in a sequel we’re probably never going to get as soon as this tanks at the box office.

Putting aside a dull script, a weak cast and a visibly messy post-production, and the critical weakness of King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is the same thing that crippled nearly every other attempted franchise of the past decade, from Robin Hood to Pan, including the similarly terrible King Arthur movie from 2004, that it spends so much time setting up things for the next movie that it forgot to make the first one anything more than yet another generic cookie cutter origin story. We get at least a half dozen of those every year from Hollywood, slapping King Arthur’s name one one isn’t a selling point, especially when most of the interesting parts of Arthurian legend are either written out or saved for the would-be sequel.
The one small mercy is that the planned six movie franchise King Arthur: Legend of the Sword was supposed to launch will probably die as the box office numbers come in Sunday night. Of course, if Warner Brothers still thought that was still in the cards at this point, they probably wouldn’t have had it open the week after Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. The sad thing is, there’s probably room for a good King Arthur movie, especially since the last couple have been about King Arthur in name only. It’s the year 2017, there is no excuse for how the most memorable movie about King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table is still the one made by Monty Python.

2 thoughts on “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword Movie Review”

  1. Thomas Goodwin says:

    The most striking thing about both this movie and the 2004 King Arthur was that it is clear neither of them have read The Once and Future King, which is THE modern King Arthur re-imagining and is a master piece in how to make King Arthur work, despite many of the components of the King Arthur mythos not appearing until very deep into the novel as well as how compelling characters can make small scale events exciting. Which in short is what most of WB’s tent poles have been lacking since the second part of the Deathly Hallows was released (and the characters in that were still pale shadows of the book characters).

    I agree that is depressing that the most memorable King Arthur movie is still Monty Python. Apart from that, I think the only one that has broken past generic mush is The Last Legion but even then it was only the idea that was good about that one…

    1. Sean CW Korsgaard says:

      The issue with both of the recent King Arthur movies is that they are both ashamed of the source material.

      The Once and Future King, which I agree, is magnificent and should serve as a road map for any would be adaptations, proudly wears Arthurian legend on its sleeves.

      If you’re ashamed of what you’re making, very rarely will the result be something to be proud of.

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