Review: ‘King Arthur: Legend of the Sword’ is a Big Budget Mess

Jacob Bock ’18/ Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, oh boy, what a hot mess. This film is directed by Guy Ritchie, known for his quick witted British crime movies. But did that style mesh with the story of King Arthur? Ehhhhh sometimes. There were times where it made this recognizable story unique, however it mostly was too manic and detracted from the overall story telling.

Charlie Hunnam’s portrayal of King Arthur was much less the gallant hero we’re used to, playing more of a roguish charlatan like Han Solo. While his performance in Pacific Rim was a little bland, Hunnam really stepped up his game making for a competent lead. It goes without saying that Jude Law killed it as always, playing a terrifying villain, King Vortigern. In fact the rest of the so many talented performers composed the supporting cast. Aidan Gillen (aka Peter Baelish from Game Of Thrones), Djimon Hounsoun, Tom Wu (Hundred Eyes from Marco Polo), Michael McElhatton (Tywin Lannister from Game Of Thrones) and even the brief cameo from David Beckham all served to strengthen the film. The only discrepancy in acting was from Astrid Bergès-Frisbey who played an unnamed mage. Hers was a monotone performance void of emotion that sounded as if she didn’t understand the lines she was reading.

Charlie Hunnam in King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. Photo Credit: Warner Brothers Pictures.

But now onto the poop. Frankly the editing of this film, although highly original, shot itself in the foot. For long portions of the film Ritchie uses this interesting editing combination of heist films, cutting between initial planning and the resulting actions, along with Eisenstein-like montages. This causes the plot to speed down the freeway going 100mph without stopping, cramming so much plot and so many characters in too short an amount of time. The rapid pacing prevents viewers to never be in the moment within a scene. Ritchie uses excessively quick cuts that are highly jarring. Seldom are there shots lasting more than four seconds. Because of this there is little to no establishment of characters, and the plot shifts on a dime. If you blink you’ll miss it. Characters that were previously shown for thirty seconds become important later and you’re left wondering “who is this again?” In essence the movie demands you to keep up with it or miss some minutia that will prove important later. At just over two hours following this ADHD chaos proves exhausting. What’s strange is the slowest points are the fight scenes which heavily use Zack Snyder-esque slow-motion similar to 300. Not only do these not fit within the established narrative frame work, but many of these action sequences rely on poorly done CGI that look more like a video cut scene than a movie. Throughout his journey from popper to king, Arthur has powerful visions whenever he grips the sword of legends with both hands. Visions so powerful they render him unconscious. Where these visions could’ve been a poignant piece of exposition, increasing in depth throughout Arthur’s ascension as king, they remain the same. Just some ambiguous dreams of Vortigern looking threatening. Ooooh, so spooky! So you’ve got this lengthy scenes in a film already strapped for time that contribute nothing. As dreamy as Hunnam is while he falls asleep in slow motion we need more exposition, dammit. Cut these superfluous scenes! This film either needed to be thirty minutes longer to slow the pacing down and provide more exposition or truncated to eighty minutes to appeal to the mainstream audience.

If you’re a big fan of the Arthurian mythos this film is not for you. The story goes its own way, loosely incorporating some elements from the original tales. It is pretty 90’s in its modern medieval fusion which turns into a video game towards the end with what is essentially a Dark Souls boss battle. Despite all these faults there is a lot of good work on display here. The set design and costuming make for amazing ambiance. The cinematography and coloring are gorgeous despite being dissected by rapid cuts. And the score by Daniel Pemberton is a strange mix of medieval and modern electronic that is unique beyond accurate description through writing. And the intro scene where Arthur’s father fights the dark mage Mordred in a flaming pyramid atop a colossal elephant is straight metal.

Jude Law in King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. Photo Credit: Warner Brothers Pictures.

Now for the final verdict! This film is worth a DVD viewing. However, if you’re a filmmaker, this movie is a great example of unorthodox editing and on that basis, a must watch. Although its style didn’t work out for King Arthur, perhaps you, dear reader, can use this editing style effectively in a film of your own. There’s something to be said for originality despite all the flaws. Taking a chance as this film did is commendable.

Overall Grade: C+/B-

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