My lands, what a hot mess Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword is. A pompous overstuffed King Arthur movie with a tasty sugary Guy Ritchie filling. The only problem is how much you get: a lot.
This is not to say I didn’t enjoy myself. I did. At times when Ritchie allows his playful, frenetic, rat-a-tat style of storytelling to come out and play, King Arthur is a blast. It’s in between the Ritchie bits that the film begins to wear on your nerves.
There’s a lot going on here, most of it not comprehensible to the mortal eye. There are a lotta ins and a lotta outs as the Dude would say. It wouldn’t be so bad if so much of it weren’t jammed into scenes of pointless exposition.
The movie opens at the tail end of an epic war between mortals and mages, replete with the elephants from Two Towers and 300. King Uther (Eric Bana) uses Excalibur to essentially portal jump inside the Mages headquarters, slays the evil Mordred (Rob Knighton), and then portal jumps out again. So naturally, you want to punctuate moments like those with long stretches of people standing around talking.
The exposition scenes wouldn’t be so bad if they actually explained anything. Case in point: Arthur (Charlie Hunnam) is tasked to journey into the dark lands by his Mage (Astrid Bereges-Frisbey). We follow him along on a psychedelic Ritchie fueled trip of a montage. It’s fantastic. But nothing comes from it. We learn nothing. Arthur learns nothing. It doesn’t affect the rest of the movie.
In spite of all this, I found myself entertained. The moments where the movie stops taking itself seriously and Ritchie comes out, and play were enough for me to forgive its other transgressions. One scene in particular where Arthur, a street level kingpin with his rowdy crew, get interrogated by a Captain of the guards about their morning’s activities, had me giggling. It’s a classic scene from another movie. The anachronism of it delighted me to no end.
Hunnam is fine as the ripped working class Arthur. He has a nice presence, but the script from Ritchie, Joby Harold, and Lionel Wigram give him precious little to play with. He’s got a nice ‘twisted in anguish’ face though. Hunnam’s problem is the script drags out the ‘reluctant hero’ trope to an almost unbearable length. Realistically, at some point, the Mage and Bedevere (Djimon Hounsou) would have left Arthur’s butt in the forest and fought Vortigern (Jude Law) on their own.
As good as Hunnam is, he’s not so good that I didn’t spend some time during the film’s slow parts imagining Hounsou as Arthur. Hounsou is so drenched in charisma and talent he radiates a plethora of emotions just by the way he holds himself while sitting. This makes the miniscule role that Hounsou’s Bedevere plays more tragic than delightful.
The Mage as written should be a blank slate. Frisbey instead imbues the character with a sort of melancholic mystery. Her name is never mentioned, only that she is a servant of Merlin. Some have assumed she’s Guinevere, but I rather hope she’s actually Merlin. Not Merlin in disguise, just Merlin herself. She has a way of moving throughout the scene just slightly off step with everybody else.
There’s so much to love about King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword, it’s just mired in a swamp of everything that doesn’t work. On one hand, it’s a movie that has the guts to make the ‘pulling sword from stone scene’ at once hilarious, dramatic, and quasi-realistic. On the other, there’s a ginormous Deux ex-Machina in the form of an even bigger, oddly fake, CGI snake.
This movie is some weird malfunctioning hybrid. It can’t decide what story it wants to be; which is sad. Because one of the stories it wants to be is a fucking blast. Sadly it usually defaults to the other story which is just a sad waste of Jude Law.