Warner Bros. 2 hours 6 minutes PG-13 Reviewed May 12, 2017
We all know the story. Young Arthur slides the magic sword Excalibur out of the stone and ascends to the Throne of England. But with Guy Ritchie co-writing and directing King Arthur: The Legend of the Sword, it feels more like he’s trying to pull a rabbit out of a hat.
Sure, there’s some fun in this bloated, enormously overproduced 2 hour re-imagining of the Camelot origin tale. (600 actors on the massive set plus 100 horses) But Ritchie and co-writers Joby Harold and Lionel Wigram can’t decide if this is an edgy, modern tale or a bang-bang video game. Neither is very satisfying.
While the panoramic views of the countryside are pleasing and the CGI effects along with epic battle scenes will satisfy the Comic Con fans, it’s the over-all tone of this film that becomes distracting. The dialogue is filled with modern clichés along with very contemporary camera moves and editing tricks that kept getting in the way of character and story development. We also got the feeling that the actors were aware of this inconsistency and played it like this is all an inside joke instead of believing in the material. Flashbacks interspersed interrupted the story and became more frustrating than illuminating.
Charlie Hunnam, coming off his praiseworthy performance in The Lost City of Z, is the wisecracking, everyman-turned-King Arthur. Hunnam works hard physically in this film. His leaps, bounds and sword fighting is impressive, as are his abs.
As a baby, Arthur saw his father King Uther (Eric Bana) murdered by his uncle Vortigern (Jude Law) who then takes the throne. Jude Law plays his role with the right mix of seething anger and evil with sputtering fits of rage.
Toddler Arthur is placed in a boat and floated down the river ala Moses. He’s rescued by prostitutes who raise him in their brothel. He grows into a streetwise tough-guy who wants nothing to do with politics, power and fame. Fat chance.
The word on the street, of course, is that “the born King” is out there, somewhere, waiting for his chance to pull the sword out of the stone. This is why Vortigern summons all his resources, even magic ones, to search and eliminate the rightful heir to the throne.
Once Arthur pulls the sword out of the stone and his identity is uncovered, the battle for survival begins. Arthur, reluctant at first, joins with his father’s former co-horts. Bedivere (Djimon Hounsou) and Goosefat Bill (Aiden Gillen of Game of Thrones) convince Arthur he must follow his destiny even though it could mean certain death. Vortigern’s top advisor (oraybe she is his lover), Maggie, (Annabelle Wallis) also comes over to Arthur's side.
Whenever the writers take themselves down an inescapable well, they simply call on a moody, young, sorceress known only as The Mage (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey), to magically solve the problem. The Mage is one of the more fun characters to follow. She delivers her lines uniquely, as if in a trance, and plays well with snakes. Arthur also seems very attracted to her, but nothing develops in this relationship, yet.
Of all the CGI monsters like Vortigern’s mutation into a magically powerful death masked warrior or the giant serpent that attacks the castle, the one that stands out is the creepiest of all. Vortigern summons an evil spirit from the depths that seems to be like an octopus. The head, however, appears to be an enormously bloated, sneering man. Lithe females come to the surface briefly as tentacles wrap around the women and drag them back under the water. This eerie, ominous presence had the greatest impact of any character the effects team created.
King Arthur: The Legend of the Sword is being touted as the first episode in a new franchise. This one cost $175 million to make. Based on this outing it may be a one-and-done. Unless, of course, King Arthur can magically pull a nearly 200 million bucks out of the box office.