To take on the legend of Excalibur, Guy Ritchie sticks with his usual love-it-or-hate-it style.
The Knights of the Round Table. The Sword in the Stone. The Lady of the Lake. Merlin. Ah, I just love the King Arthur legend. But I usually do not love director Guy Ritchie’s signature filmmaking style—one infamous for quick cuts, stylized slo-mo scenes, and brutal, fast action sequences heavy on hand-to-hand combat.
So there’s good news and bad news about this latest spin on the Excalibur tale. For some, it will be very bad news that Ritchie (who co-wrote King Arthur: The Legend of the Sword with Joby Harold and Lionel Wigram) stays in his lane with this film; if you didn’t enjoy the look and pace and overall vibe of other Ritchie movies, such as Snatch or Sherlock Holmes, then you might feel that his often jarring and visually exhausting style could overpower the strong performances from a great cast.
The good news is that if—like me—you love everything having to do with Arthurian mythology, you’ll likely be able to tolerate Ritchie’s dramatic flair and will appreciate a fresh look at the epic story.
In fact, there are parts where the film actually benefits from the crackling pace—the first being near the beginning, where we’re treated to a montage that shows Arthur growing up on the streets of Londinium, after having been pushed down the river in a boat as a toddler by his soon-to-be-murdered father Uther (Eric Bana). We later see how the grown Arthur (Charlie Hunnam) accumulated his group of friends—including Bedivere (Djimon Hounsou) and Goosefat Bill (Game of Thrones fan favorite Aidan Gillen)—who will eventually back him in his fight against his power-hungry uncle, Vortigern (Jude Law, at his slimiest).
It was also cool to see Arthur finally be reunited with his father’s sword, Excalibur, pull it out of the stone, and then—after some time—be able to actually wield its power. And while I was annoyed that one of my favorite characters of all time, the wizard Merlin, was not in this film and instead replaced by a witch who everyone calls “The Mage” (Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey), I was happy that we still got to see some magic. Whenever The Mage’s eyes went black, I got psyched, because that meant she was going to be doing some really weird stuff (controlling birds or gigantic snakes with her mind, as witches do) to help Arthur and his crew as they tried to beat back or otherwise overthrow Vortigern’s forces. But Ritchie went overboard with this when he chose to also have Vortigern involved in dark magic. Those parts—which involved some sort of demon knight and also a group of slithery water creatures who made Vortigern pay a high price for his power— looked overly CGI’d and fell flat. They also were totally unnecessary for the story.
King Arthur would’ve been a mess if its cast hadn’t gone all-in with dedicating themselves to their roles—especially Charlie Hunnam as Arthur. Thankfully Hunnam was convincing in his portrayal of Arthur’s reluctance to give up his old life after learning his true identity, his growing rage at Vortigern as he comes to understand the full horror of what his uncle’s been up to, his selflessness in truly caring about others, and finally his determination and confidence after assuming his rightful place as king. The story ends by introducing a not-fully-assembled Round Table—setting everything up for a sequel, which is a bit presumptuous. I wish everyone involved had been focused on making this film the best it could be instead. It would’ve benefited from more character development (outside of Arthur) and fewer fight sequences.
The Bottom-Line? If, like me, you normally don’t enjoy Ritchie’s filmmaking style but are interested in the Arthur legend, then I think King Arthur is at least worth checking on out DVD. The over-stylized parts get old after two hours, but at no point does the action lag, and some scenes are quite exceptional.
Cast: Charlie Hunnam (Arthur), Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey (The Mage), Jude Law (Vortigern), Djimon Hounsou (Bedivere), Eric Bana (Uther), Aidan Gillen (Goosefat Bill)
Credits: Directed by Guy Ritchie. Written by Joby Harold, Guy Ritchie and Lionel Wigram
Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures
Run Time: 2 hour 6 minutes
Erika Olson © May 12, 2017