I’m kind of a medieval junkie. I’ve read each book in the A Song of Ice and Fire saga at least two times and A Knight’s Tale is one of my all-time favorite movies. With that said, I don’t really consider myself a King Arthur expert. I know a few of the basic things like Merlin, Guinevere and the existence of a round table. A young man draws a sword from a stone and sets out on a path that ends with himself being King of a unified England and his evil uncle banished. Guy Ritchie’s upcoming King Arthur: Legend of the Sword doesn’t dwell too heavily on the story’s lore, in fact some of the most iconic aspects of Arthurian legend were intentionally left out to leave room for future sequels, but it’s still a fun movie.
With all that said, I don’t think this is the new hit franchise Warner Bros. hopes it will become. It’s a pretty standard, fantasy, action movie that feels like a watered down version of Lord of the Rings at times. There are giant elephants, massive towers and wizards who control eagles on the battlefield. The backgrounds during some of the castle fight scenes even felt eerily similar to the Battle of Helm’s Deep as King Arthur fought for his new throne. Aiden Gillen and Michael McElhatton, two actors who are comfortable in mischievous, medieval roles thanks to their time on Game of Thrones, both gave great performances. But their presence in the movie took me slightly out of the viewing experience and made it feel like I was watching a smorgasbord of medieval tropes instead of a singular story. At one point, there are even Vikings from the North that I swear are perfect stand-ins for the Starks of old.
Charlie Hunnam is good in the title role. His down to earth qualities and ability to interact genuinely with people of all classes gives weight to the idea of Arthur being a King of the people. He’s believable in a leadership position and seems genuinely comfortable in the middle of intense action sequences. He reminds me a bit of Robert Downey Jr. as Sherlock Holmes, someone who’s too smart for his own good who cracks jokes to lighten the mood as he fights impossible odds. In fact, there’s one moment in particular where Arthur and his allies plot an attack that feels like it’s ripped straight out of Sherlock Holmes. I never got into Sons of Anarchy, so I wasn’t pre-judging his performance like the women sitting next to me, but even they liked his take on the character (despite not liking the movie). Yeah, he had a few awkward lines but I blame that primarily on the clunky script instead of his performance. This isn’t something I normally even notice in a movie, but Hunnam has very expressive eyes that add a sense of emotional weight to some of his quieter moments.
Jude Law turned in an entertaining, schlocky performance as the lead villain, King Vortigern. His cold delivery lent itself well to each of the character’s terrible actions as he worked to protect his power. “I will let them hate, as long as they fear me,” he said with a dry smile that perfectly symbolized the character’s lust for power and control. Unfortunately, beyond Vortigern’s drive for power, his motivations were never firmly established. He’s jealous of his brother so he sets out to usurp the throne from him with visions of destroying the world. His immediate family is left out for most of the movie, but all of a sudden at the end we meet one of his daughter’s and are supposed to have an emotional response when something bad happens.
From a technical standpoint, the movie is extremely well made. The cinematography and editing were solid and the score did a good job of setting the tone. There were a few moments where the drums were a bit too heavy, especially right before a battle, but overall Daniel Pemberton turned in some amazing work that makes it easy to understand why Ritchie re-teamed with him for ‘King Arthur’ after they worked together on 2015’s The Man From U.N.C.L.E.. There were a few too many montages for me sprinkled throughout the movie, but one sequence in particular that shows Arthur growing up in Londinium was extremely well made and moved the story along wonderfully all while showing us his character traits in a natural way.
Emotional beats were shoved into the movie instead of given the time to naturally occur. Everything even starts with a classic (generic) title sequence that rapidly explains information to the audience instead of showing us the essential information. A little more than half way through the movie Arthur just throws Excalibur into the lake for seemingly no reason. Sure he’s at a low point in the movie, but his drive wasn’t challenged and he had no real reason to give up. Arthur throwing the sword into the water is just too iconic of an image for WB to leave it out of the movie but it hadn’t been earned in that moment.
The action sequences seemed heavily influenced by Zack Snyder. I know Guy Ritchie is a big fan of scenes with a mixture of slowed down and sped up footage, but the action moments were doused in CGI and sped-up zooms that gave all of them an almost amateur feeling. There were some decent effects whenever King Arthur let loose with Excalibur, but overall I was waiting for the action moments to end. ‘King Arthur’ would have been much better served if there was a lot less CGI and a few more close-up, choreographed fight scenes that relied on talented stuntmen instead of cuts to make things look believable. It scares me that WB is putting so many eggs in the Zack Snyder basket and I’m worried that next month’s Wonder Woman will have similar problems with amateur action scenes (which, if the trailer is anything to judge off of, it seems likely).
All in all, it’s a pretty generic summer action movie. There were some cool moments, cheesy lines and big explosions strung together by an average plot. If you’re a big fan of Guy Ritchie shtick, then this movie is probably right up your alley. It’s high on adrenaline, action and attitude without ever taking itself too seriously. But if you walk into the theaters looking for a faithful adaption of the King Arthur legend, prepare yourself for disappointment, my friends.