What the heck just happened?
“King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” stars Charlie Hunnam as the titular character, and follows his origin story of finding the sword Excalibur and stopping the warlord who killed his father. Jude Law, Djimon Hounsou and Eric Bana also star as Guy Ritchie directs.
I don’t mind Guy Ritchie films. I love the “Sherlock Holmes” series, but besides them Ritchie’s films all tend to be “fun-til-they’re-not” and certainly style over substance. The trailers for “King Arthur” didn’t look great and it was delayed a half dozen times which is usually a red flag, and as it turns out the final product is messy and dull, even by Guy Ritchie standards.
There are flashes of fun and inventiveness sporadically sprinkled throughout this film. When Arthur and his friends are riffing with a member of the King’s army, the editing and script are fast paced and enjoyable as they recount how they spent their morning. It’s clearly a Ritchie scene and is by far my favorite moment of the film. The smaller, human interactions where characters are just talking and the film is based in reality are where the script is at its most natural, and I wish there were more instances of this being a 5th century period piece instead of a magical fantasy.
When Arthur finally learns how to wield the sword the effects are pretty cool, with time slowing down and Arthur slicing through bad guys with CGI ease. However that is really the only time the supernatural aspects of the film work. In every other instance involving magic, the scenes range from “that was dumb” to “what the actual hell is happening?” Arthur has to go on a “spirit quest” to fight his inner demons and the reasons and rules of the scene are never explained. There is a mage who can control animals with her mind and it is just a lazy get out of jail free card for the writers when they had no other ideas how to resolve a conflict. And then there is the film’s climax.
Everything was going fine enough as we approached the final act. I wasn’t quite bored and there had been enough enjoyable moments that I felt I was going to be able to give this a passable grade; but then the last 20 minutes happened. I won’t spoil it in case you go against my opinion and still wish to see this, but the final act of this film is nothing short of nonsensical, loud, dark and stupid. There is no tension, no enjoyment and nothing feels earned or even makes sense. It is like “Warcraft” had some stock footage left over and Guy Ritchie decided to throw it in his movie; in fact the entire third act was like watching someone else play a video game, which is only fun for about five minutes.
The performances are all fine, although I couldn’t tell you the name of a single character not named Arthur, much less their motivations. And no one chews scenery or goes so over-the-top that they’re so awful that they’re stupidly enjoyable. The film looks solid enough, with the production design of 5th century England with its decadent castles, foggy mountains and dusty brothels all putting you in the time period.
“King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” is a disappointment, mainly because Guy Ritchie has a track record of making films that are at the very least enjoyable. Here, his editing is confusing, his narrative is sloppy and his inability to decide whether he wants to make an epic fantasy adventure or a boots-on-the-ground knight’s tale creates a mess in tones. If you are a turn-your-brain-off kinda moviegoer you may get some in-the-moment thrills, but for anyone else I really think you’d be better served saving your time and money.
Critics Rating: 3/10