It’s a common criticism of modern-day hollywood, that there is no original ideas, and that everything is a reboot, a re-imagining, or an adaptation. King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword is sort of all of those things. The King Arthur story, has been told again and again across all media, the basics of which include epic sword fights, magic, and the legendary sword Excalibur. Legend Of The Sword, from Director Guy Ritchie is historical fantasy, disguised as a typical summer blockbuster.
The film starts with a prologue, giving only the briefest back story, however elements of the prologue are woven throughout the film, which adds only slightly more to the story. The story introduces a great many threads to the history of Excalibur, and by extension Arthur, but many of the aspects are not fleshed out enough to make a truly compelling story. There are many mentions of the great wizard Merlin, and his role in the history of this story, however he is never really seen. Some of the most interesting things that are brought up throughout, as then discarded with throwaway lines that are meant to fill the audience in. After the prologue, there is a montage of the titular Arthur as he grows up a ne’er-do-well in England, fending for himself, and amassing some wealth. The elements of showcasing Arthur’s life pre-sword are wholly uninteresting, though thankfully Guy Ritchie’s snappy dialogue keeps these moments from becoming boring. Once the sword is introduced, the story picks up, though the seminal moment where Arthur pulls sword from stone, is fairly anticlimactic. The remainder of the film is a mix of typical hero origin, with the hero reluctantly accepting the burden bestowed upon him, and revenge tale.
Given the nature of the story, as well the familiar tropes it draws upon, means that the story is fairly predictable, which is a detriment to the enjoyment, because the stakes remain fairly low. There is not really a time at all in the film where it feels as though Arthur, or his team are in real danger. The same can be said for the villainous Vortigan, whose arc is mapped out from the start. There is a moment where he is attempting to gain enough power for victory, that more or less heavily foreshadow something later in the film, but in doing makes it so when the moment comes, it doesn’t have the same impact it is supposed to. With a predictable plot the other elements need to do enough to hold the audience’s interest, and while there is enough in the film to keep it fun, there is not enough to keep it entirely interesting
The leads in the film are both good, Sons Of Anarchy’s Charlie Hunnam is the Arthur, and he carries himself with a swagger and attitude that is the perfect foil for the more menacing Vortigan. Jude Law perfectly encapsulates Vortigan, and is able to convey the power that the character both yields and desires. The few scenes between Hunnam and Law are some of the better ones in the film, and their inevitable showdown in the end is exciting to watch. The same cannot be said for the secondary characters, who do not add much to the film. The story is meant to be a showcase for Arthur, as it is his story, however even with a film solely focused on his adventure, the rest of the cast could have done more, or been more memorable. Arthur’s team consists of Djimon Hounsou, Game of Thrones’ Aidan Gillen, Craig McGinlay, Kingsley Ben-Adir, and Neil Maskell, with only Maskell getting a moment of value. Their group does include the addition of Astrid Bergès-Frisbey as the Mage, however she doesn’t have much to do, beyond telling Arthur over and over that the sword is important, and to believe in the power of the sword.
The sword does play a pivotal role in the film, and the way in which it is presented while underutilized, is visually impressive. Ritchie presents these moments with Excalibur with a frantic slow motion pace, that shows its power, which comes from both the weight of the sword, as well as the magic imbued within it. The stylistic choices throughout the film are visually striking, and could have been used more. There a multitude of fantastical creatures, but they are used sparingly, as are many of the fantasy elements within this film. It is a shame that a story to so heavily infused in theory with magic, and monsters, is so thin in the execution those aspects. The large-scale moments are some of the better ones in this film, so had there been more of them, would have made for more of a fantasy epic, rather than a smaller on scope film.
King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword is not a bad film, but it is rather unforgettable, which is a bad thing. Ultimately the film does not strike the right balance between the hero’s journey story that it wants to tell, with larger world it wants to build. Had there been more exposition with regards to the magic and history of the sword, mixed with a more compelling story for Arthur, then the film could have been much better than ended up being. The impressive visuals, and Guy Ritchie style are unfortunately not enough to elevate King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword to something more than missable summer fare.