For a movie featuring Sexy Revisionist King Arthur, giant murder elephants, evil Jude Law, a fetching female Merlin reimagining and a three-bodied sex kraken that feeds on the innocent, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is certainly pretty dull and forgettable. Let alone for a movie featuring Sexy Revisionist King Arthur, giant murder elephants, evil Jude Law, a fetching female Merlin reimagining and a three-bodied sex kraken that feeds on the innocent directed by Guy Ritchie, i.e. the king of the quick cut. What has cinema become?
For what it’s worth, at first, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is a luxurious kind of bad. A highly expensive establishing action sequence finds the aforementioned humongous elephants wrenching havoc for no conceivable reason, while Eric Bana throws his horse over a cliff in order to jump into a crumbling structure holding several men serviced in more ways than one. It’s rich, almost winking ludicrousness that is only matched by the aftermentioned three-bodied sex kraken that feeds on the innocent just moments later. But then the movie takes a straight nosedive into Boringville, with no restroom breaks either.
You see, just before Legend of the Sword takes a pit stop at the Snoozer Hotel, we learn that the mischevious Vortigern (a deliciously malicious Law) is killing anyone that gets in the way of his impending kingship, and if it weren’t for a fleeting rescue during Arthur’s infancy, Arthur would’ve died before he lived. But Arthur (Charlie Hunnam) does live, if away from his royal inherence, in a hard-knuckled life inside a brothel. He’s trained to fend for himself and loot only when it benefits those around him (I sometimes wondered if Legend of the Sword was Ritchie’s inadvertent way to make a Robin Hood reboot, which honestly would’ve been a lot better for his specific style), but in the midst of protecting the ones he loves, he soon discovers that he’s destined for bigger, grander things. He pulls out an all-power sword, Excalibur, which he’ll wield, through the training of a sexy Mage (Astrid Berges-Frisbey) and disenchanted trainer (Djimon Hounsou, giving a better performance than the material deserves, as per usual), in order to bring down his nefarious, evil uncle.
It’s not that King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is especially incompetent. There are a couple inspired sequences, notably from Arthur’s days before ascending to his newfound royalty. There’s a general cheekiness with his banter around his future knights of the roundtable that live up to Ritchie’s trademark signatures. The rustic Scottish score, provided by Daniel Pemberton, gives the film an upbeat energy that makes it flow more than it should. And, of course, the Scottish scenery is quite often gorgeous, especially when Ritchie films in real life environments, away from some ill-advised, poorly designed greenscreen background effects, notably around the overblown third act. But King Arthur: Legend of the Sword lacks the casual, cocky charm of Ritchie’s better works. It’s fun only in spurts, and the moments that do engage you are often too far away and infrequent that you’re mostly left bored by this unnecessary retelling. And that’s without delving into the fact that this take is yet another “this ain’t your daddy’s [blank]” type of studio blockbuster. You know, where everything is edgier, darker and more grounded to divert it from the more whimsical source material, not because it comes with a specific vision or an interesting perspective.
It’s insincere, and even when King Arthur: Legend of the Sword tries to play up the fun, it’s too fake and ill-fitting to make it work. There’s no real enthusiasm to the proceedings. There’s a general wonkiness to everything in the story, from the pacing to the structure, that’s uncomfortable and generally unremarkable. Even the flat-out weird stuff isn’t quite consistent enough to keep you invested. That’s saying something, because did I tell you about the three-bodied sex kraken that feeds on the innocent? It appears at least twice! If you have a three-bodied sex kraken that feeds on the innocent in your new movie and you still find a way to be pretty darn boring, you know you’re probably doing something wrong.
It’s not hard to pick apart the influences here, whether they’re Game of Thrones or Lord of the Rings, but those said influences feel like sources of imitation rather than something to aspire to be as good as. The mythology that’s established here is weirdly convoluted for no good reason, and there’s a general lumpiness to the plotting that suggests the filmmakers are trying to do too much with too little time. It’s messy, as you can imagine, but more than that, it’s boring in its messiness. Everything that should be fun isn’t, and everything that should be silly isn’t even all that goofy. It’s astoundingly milquetoast in its execution.
Hunnam, like the rest of the cast, does what he can, and he’s admittedly better than he ever was in Pacific Rim. But Law is the only actor that really stands out. This movie is so forgettable, I completely forgot that David Beckham made a cameo. King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is a studio retelling with all the odds against it, and rather than try to win over fans with its innovative approach, it alienates them by making everything that should be fun boring and the things that could be compelling off-putting and odd in the wrong ways. Ritchie and his team appear wholly disinterested in making a King Arthur movie, so therefore we’re often disinterested to watch them half-heartedly make one for us. Perhaps it would be best to keep this sword safely tucked inside the stone. It’s not sharp enough.