Written by: Julia Siegel
Just about everyone knows some version of King Arthur, Camelot, and the Knights of the Round Table. But, you probably don’t know Guy Ritchie’s version, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. The classic tale is flipped and Ritchie-ized as Arthur’s origin story plays out with a rags-to-riches theme. With some modernity and new twists, only Ritchie could pull off this tale.
King Arthur is essentially the known fables plus Lord of the Rings meets Game of Thrones. It’s an epic film that outdoes itself at times. After his parents are murdered in Camelot, Arthur (Charlie Hunnam) is raised in a brothel and has no clue that he is the heir to the throne. His power-crazy uncle, Vortigern (Jude Law), rules all of England by casting fear into all his subjects. When the magical sword Excalibur, crafted by the absent Merlin, surfaces for the first time in approximately twenty years, Vortigern searches for the man who can pull the sword from the stone in order to eliminate his only competition for the throne. Thus begins Arthur’s legendary tale, as the Resistance forces find him first.
The overall story is interesting because it shows a very reluctant Arthur instead of the noble, valiant king. This change served the story well, as it was quite good for an origin tale. However, there was too much magic involved. Vortigern literally destroys all that he loves for magic, and mages and sirens cause havoc. Even Excalibur gives its owner magical fighting abilities, making all the magic seem out of place. I could understand some magic being involved, but it was too much for this story.
Another issue with the film is the declusion of Merlin. It’s very clear that King Arthur is the starting point for a potential franchise, but it was odd to not have Merlin involved. Most of the well-known Knights of the Round Table don’t make appearances, but that’s understandable in this context. Making a film with lots of magic and not including the most loved sorcerer doesn’t make sense.
There was a lot of action in the film, but it wasn’t all perfect. The scenes where Arthur wields Excalibur and goes into battle are so choppy in both filming quality and editing that you can’t see what is happening. The only other part of this movie that I wasn’t a fan of was the Eye of Mordor tower at Camelot simply because it felt out of place. Some people may also not like the mystical creatures in the film, but I didn’t have much of a problem with them.
The acting was solid during the entire film. Hunnam’s portrayal of a snarky Arthur fit perfectly. He also got jacked for this role, which made him look great in more than the action scenes. Law’s conflicted performance was great, and he is one of those rare actors that can play a hero and a villain well. Djimon Hounsou and Aidan Gillen, as Bedivere and Goose Fat Bill respectively, had great repose and added some nice action and humor.
At its core, King Arthur is very much a Ritchie film. I really enjoy his style of directing and writing, especially the one fantastic scene in all his films where the characters recount some crazy tale. His taste in epic scores is also great, as Daniel Pemberton’s composition adds a much-needed layer to the film. This modern version does differ from other Camelot tales, which is its strongest quality. King Arthur is pretty much what you would expect from what the trailers show.