“King Arthur” of Camelot is like “John Carter” of Mars: It probably shouldn’t have been made. But director Guy Ritchie was able to pull the classic story from the studio stone, and although not a legendary film, like “Carter” it’s at least an entertaining, out-of-this-world adventure.
Fans of Ritchie’s flashback-laden formula in “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels,” “Snatch,” and both “Sherlock Holmes” entries will get it in “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword.” And similar to his past films, the lead’s narrative navigations through the movie’s machinations do work. Unfortunately, with “Arthur” they just don’t always fit.
For “King Arthur” is part underworld caper part other-world fantasy, more magical than medieval. Sean Connery’s Arthurian “First Knight” this is not. “Arthur’s” spirit and scope are actually closer to a series Connery (foolishly) turned down: “Lord of the Rings.”
That’s evident from the film’s opening battle featuring “Return of the King”-sized elephants, a “Two Towers”-tall keep, and a “Fellowship”-forged prize. Leading the good is King Uther (Eric Bana). The evil: mysterious Mordred and all-too-apparent CGI. How “Arthur’s” computer graphics look worse than the 14-year-old Oscar-winning Tolkien tale is baffling—and with a production budget of $175 million no less.
Nevertheless, it is certainly fantastic in every sense of the word. But from it, we are distractingly taken back to Ritchie’s reality to follow Arthur (Charlie Hunnam) age from would-be royal to street-rat scrapper. The sequence is tonally unfitting and representative of “Arthur’s” overall directorial dichotomy: Both work independently—just not together.
It would be like David Beckham playing not soccer but actor; it’s awkward. And yet, his kicker of a cameo in the film’s most iconic scene certainly pulled this viewer out of the film just as Arthur pulled his sword from the stone. Thankfully, from there, the rest of the story is history.
And through it, seasoned actors do give “King Arthur” a fighting chance. Jude Law is expectedly excellent. Djimon Hounsou is as solid as a rock. And “Game of Thrones’” Aidan Gillen plays his majestically mischievous self. And like Taylor Kitsch’s dry act on Mars, Hunnam gives his all but is ultimately left offering more eye candy than charisma.
From their banters to battles, “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” can be fun, fierce, and full of energy. If only its story and structure had a little more focus to fight its auteur’s trademark tendencies.
Ritchie’s film, Warner Bros. hoped, would be the first in a six-film series. Apparently, every 10 years or so, Hollywood wants to take another stab with Excalibur. Neither 1995’s “First Knight” nor 2004’s “King Arthur” could cut it.
And this cinematic sword will likely also remain stuck, this time because of its director’s unfitting stylistic sheath. And that’s too bad, for there are moments when “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” really shines.
3 out of 5