Hopefully this franchise goes back to the nothingness from whence it came.
I never thought I would say that I longed for the 2004 film King Arthur, starring Clive Owen and Keira Knightley. Yet that’s exactly how I felt as I tried to stay awake through the boring, unfunny, and just plain joyless King Arthur reboot from Guy Richie. And in case you are wondering, the 2004 version is quite bad.
In this messy origin story, which Richie shares the credit for with four other writers, Arthur (Charlie Hunnam) is born to a loving family – King Uther Pendragon (Eric Bana) and Queen Elsa (Katie McGrath). Uther rules and protects Camelot, wielding the power of his mighty sword Excalibur to defeat the current threat of mages. Meanwhile the king’s brother, Vortigern (Jude Law), goes Hamlet on Uther, killing him over jealousy of losing his succession to the crown. Before he dies, the King is able to hide baby Arthur on a boat and send him down the river (like Moses) to Londinium. This is where you would think he would meet Merlin and be raised to become a great knight. But instead, Arthur is found by prostitutes and raised to run a brothel. And this is where we enter a terrible medieval parody of Snatch.
Richie tries to turn the legendary story of King Arthur into one of his heist movies. Unfortunately the disjointed storytelling and terrible script don’t play well at all, and leave the film looking like a complete train-wreck. Hunnam is as dull as they come as Arthur, and lacks any charm or charisma that would make you root for him to become king. Between the awful dialog and Hunnam’s delivery, there are more than enough moments to make you get up and leave the theater (if you aren’t writing a review).
What the film really feels like it wants to be is a videogame (no offense to videogames, I have played many with much more compelling stories and performances). When we aren’t being subjected to the long, drawn out scenes full of uninteresting dialogue (which is most of the movie), the occasional action sequence is comprised almost entirely in CG. There are a few terribly choreographed hand-to-hand type scenes, but nothing near the quality you would expect from a movie about the legendary knight. Otherwise we simply get an overload of terrible computer generated nonsense. Once Arthur learns to control Excalibur, any hope for a cool sword fight is thrown out the window. As quickly as the sword can start glowing, Arthur swings it in the general direction of his enemies and they all fall to the ground (think Sauron in the Prologue of The Fellowship of the Rings). We don’t get to see Arthur in any great fights, which I can’t think of anything more desirable in a movie like this. The special effects during these sequences are terrible too – much worse than what we get in most any current generation of gaming.
Much like the 2004 film, Legend of the Sword isn’t lacking talented actors. Eric Bana is great as Uther Pendragon, like in most films, but unfortunately leaves not far into the movie. There are a couple of Game of Thrones alums, Aidan Gillen (Petyr Baelish) as Bill and Michael McElhatton (Roose Bolton) as Jack’s Eye, who are usually quite good. Djimon Hounsou plays Sir Bedivere, who used to serve King Uther. Jude Law is the main antagonist, and a great actor – but unfortunately isn’t given much to do with this awful role.
Oh, and David Beckham has a cameo as a random soldier that tells Arthur to go pull the sword from the stone (in this version of the story, the Usurper King has his guards round up every male of the appropriate age to try and pull the sword -which was encased in stone by Uther. They are then branded after they fail).
Another odd choice in the film was to have Arthur trained in martial arts by the master of the Londinium dojo, George (Tom Wu). It felt like nothing less than blatant pandering to the international market, as martial arts never really come into play during these stories. He also never effectively uses these skills. All he needed to do is learn how to properly sword fight, but we couldn’t even get a memorable scene.
Whatever Guy Richie was trying to go for here simply didn’t work. Turning King Arthur and his knights into a bunch of scoundrels felt too far off from the stories we know, and the attempts at humor constantly fell flat. More often than not, the worst offender was the boring plot. Clocking in at just over two hours, the film feels like it will never end. Had it been exciting, that might have been a different story. But there is little action in the film, which is supposed to tell the incredible story of Arthur becoming king, pulling Excalibur from the stone, and assembling his round table. But truth be told, I’ve had much more fun putting together furniture from IKEA.
After seeing this film, I am very worried about the director taking on the live-action adaptation of Aladdin for Disney.
King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is a D-