King Arthur: Legend of the Sword Thrives on Action, Falters on Pacing
Release Date: May 12th, 2017
Cast: Charlie Hunnam, Jude Law, Djimon Hounsou, Aidan Gillen, Astrid Berges-Frisbey, Eric Bana, Tom Wu
Director: Guy Ritchie
Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures, Weed Road Pictures, Safehouse Pictures, Ritchie/Wigram Productions, Village Roadshow Pictures
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
Genre: Fantasy, Action
It’s been a couple weeks since Charlie Hunnam was in a flick, isn’t it time for another?
King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is not your typical King Arthur movie. Not only does it not stick close to the legend, thankfully it also doesn’t waste any effort attempting to be some pseudo-historical nonsense claiming to be ‘the REAL story of King Arthur.’ I say thankfully because we have seen it done before, and all it ever does is hamstrings itself as it attempts to take away the magic inherent in the mythos. Instead, Ritchie’s Arthur takes those elements, cranks them up to 11 and lets the thing run wild. For better or worse.
The movie opens with a text card informing us of the past when Man and Mage lived together in harmony. At this moment my eyes almost rolled completely out of my skull. Any movie that feels it necessary to do an info dump at the start like this usually has no faith in the world building of the rest of the project.
It then opens on Uther Pendragon defending his castle, Camelot, from the forces of Mordred. Mordred is leading the assault from his sorcerer pyramid temple atop the back of a gargantuan, skyscraper-sized elephant. It was at this moment that I was able to place this movie into the Hierarchy of Film, behind Lord of the Rings, behind even Conan the Barbarian (1982) but ahead of Seventh Son and Conan the Barbarian (2011). This was a schlocky fantasy movie, but with a pedigree of quality filmmakers in Ritchie and cast.
Anyways, Uther falls to some Frank Frazetta Death Dealer looking evil force and little Arthur finds himself Moses-ing down the river to Londinium. There Ritchie begins to put his specific talents to work as we see his Arthur rise a street rat and gang leader of sorts, raised in a brothel, learning to fight, and accruing a gang. It is this hoodlum Arthur who is to draw Excalibur and eventually lead England… if he can defeat the evil forces in place looking to stop him.
King Arthur has a lot going for it in the strangest ways. It’s commitment to being a weird, fantasy movie allows it to go where it pleases with no heed to ‘accuracy,’ which makes it better. Arthur learns melee combat from an Asian monk named George. Excalibur gives him super powers. There are giant monsters.
It’s a helluva ride, if only it had been consistent in that fun. The movie benefits from Ritchie’s pacing when it comes to exposition or retelling of events, but suffers in the third act as it trudges along, stuck in the mud at points.
This fast forwarding of events is great when it comes to what would be less action-packed moments, but continues through possibly fun adventure settings as Arthur journeys through some mystical Dark Land. When the action is like a heist it plays very well, but when it comes time for epic battles it looks video game-esque at best.
Ultimately, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is an uneven film, fluctuating between over the top fantasy action fun and stylish choices to sluggish pacing and strange third act plot choices. If you’re into this sort of movie, and chances are if you’ve seen the trailers you know, see it, but maybe wait for home release. I said all of this and yet, if they made a sequel, I would certainly catch it.