I wanted to like this movie. I should have liked this movie. I don’t like this movie. Guy Ritchie has done for Arthurian legend what Bryan Singer did for the mythology of the “X-Men” — namely, strip a lengthy and elaborate existing story world of its well-established history in favor of creating something that, while “new” in the most literal sense of the word, contributes nothing of value to the legacy of its source material.
When I was just starting college and embarking on my protracted journey toward film literacy, I can’t deny that I was a huge Guy Ritchie fan (he’s really a filmmaker uniquely suited to the mentality 18-year-old males). This fact, in conjunction with my long-standing affinity for Arthurian legend, should have left me predisposed to holding this film in high esteem. Unfortunately, King Arthur: The Legend of the Sword is not a great film — it’s not even a great Guy Ritchie film. Instead, it falls prey to all of the director’s self-indulgent quirks with none of their contingent charms, resulting in a movie that lacks both the audacity to indulge in its own outlandishness and sufficient restraint to genuinely honor the stories that serve as its inspiration.
The narrative plays extremely fast and loose with Arthurian myth — with the emphasis on fast. The first act compresses a convoluted Superman-by-way-of-Moses backstory into an almost inconceivably brief bit of first-act exposition dump, but the merciful brevity of this requisite coming-of-age montage belies the boredom that awaits. While visually interesting, the script’s second act wastes inordinate amounts of time establishing a rogue’s gallery of colorfully monikered allies (Goosefat Bill, Kung Fu George, etc.) before relegating the same to performing the thankless task of spouting Ritchian heist-movie dialogue that sounds as if it could’ve been lifted wholesale from a rejected draft of Ritchie’s 2000 movie Snatch before being tarted up to sound more medieval.
Charlie Hunnam does his dead level best to imbue some pathos to what amounts to little more than a sword-and-sorcery adventure flick on steroids, and Jude Law chews scenery with the best of ‘em, but there can be no escaping the fact that this film feels as if it was cobbled together from pieces of various comic book origin stories and grafted onto a “Game of Thrones” episode. Ritchie’s unnatural attachment to ill-conceived set pieces undermines any possibility his script ever had for developing narrative or characterization, and those set pieces themselves are so thoroughly derivative that I would be shocked if the estate of Frank Frazetta hadn’t at least contemplated suing the production.
Ritchie is nothing if not a highly imaginative visual stylist, but style will only take you so far without substance. Early in the development process, the director reportedly considered making his King Arthur a more staid, straightforward pseudohistorical fantasy epic. Some of the remnants of that earlier film are still evident, predominantly in its tepid second act. While the hypermasculine action spectacle may be sufficient to maintain the interest of some viewers, others will find little more than the opportunity for a good nap. Again, I can’t say it’s a completely terrible film, or even the worst thing that Ritchie has made (considering my deep disdain for his Sherlock Holmes films), but the potential for this film to be any good has been totally squandered. Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, some suggestive content and brief strong language. Now Playing at AMC Classic River Hills 10, Carolina Cinemark, Regal Biltmore Grande, Epic of Hendersonville.