King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (2017) (Review)

With Hollywood willingness to forge a cinematic franchise out of absolutely anything (as suggested by the forthcoming The Emoji Movie later this year), some properties cannot helped but feel like damaged goods before they even undergo translation to the big screen. Tarzan, Peter Pan and King Arthur are examples of properties that have rarely taken off, all plagued with their fair share of failures in the past; but that hasn't stopped Warners Bros pushing through with a big-budget bonanza of the latter, subtitled Legend of The Sword. Directed by Guy Richie and starring Charlie Hunnam and Jude Law, the action-adventure will hope to find its audience next month upon official release.

After drawing the sword Excalibur from the stone and realising his royal heritage, Arthur (Hunnam) must face the demons of his past, including tyrant King Vortigern (Law) - who murdered his parents and stole his rightful crown - returning to his homeland to defeat him. While struggling to harness the power of the sword, he must learn from the Resistance how to become its master, how to unite the kingdom and take down the evil that rules it. Starring alongside Hunnam and Law in this testosterone-fuelled adventure are Dijimon Hounsou, Aidan Gillen and Eric Bana and Astrid Berges-Frisbey, all hoping to have found a place in the next big cinematic franchise.

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is messy. So messy. A complete whirlwind of CGI and effects, Guy Ritchie's direction is jarring beyond belief, threatening to give every audience member a severe case of whiplash - and the process isn't even that enjoyable either, more like a car crash than a rollercoaster ride. For prolonged sequences of action and fantasy, the chaotic visuals never cease and are never given room to breathe, suffocating audiences beneath set piece after set piece of CGI-fuelled mayhem and distractingly erratic editing. Funnily enough though, despite how much is thrown at the screen (often all at once), the film really lacks a sense of urgency or excitement, chained by the conventions of an origin story template - rules which Legend of the Sword very safely complies to. It's like the direction seen in the Ritchie-helmed Sherlock Holmes series is on steroids, trying to be bigger and better but actually making very little sense, incoherently rambling on and on and on, resulting in a messy final product.

The cast is fine but that is as highly as I can speak of them. Admittedly, Jude Law comes out of this the best, having delivered a performance that revels in Vortigern's villainy well. Playing it over the top is probably the best call for the roles, evoking a very archetypical wickedness that allows the ball to begin rolling every early on. Law has fun here and we experience some of that because of it. Charlie Hunnam is still yet to convince me he is leading man material; he does a decent enough job in this capacity, playing the comedic angle surprisingly effectively, even though the combination of the no-cylinders-barred direction and rapid editing obscure a lot of the action-beats, leaving me skeptical of his talents on that front. The supporting characters are as underdeveloped and under-utilised as you would expect, with no one standing out for either right or wrong reasons, simply padding out the rest of the film as characters presumably more important for the theoretical sequel. Ritchie, Lionel Wigram and Joy Harold's screenplay, based on a story by David Dobkin and Harold, is cluttered with 'origin story' conventions that causes the film to drag its feet. With so many minds involved, you can physically see the film straining to incorporate everybody's vision and set up so much for the sequel, ultimately delivering a sub-standard film setting up a sequel that promises to be more interesting. Basically, it falls into the same traps as Independence Day: Resurgence (and many others) slipped up with last year.

It may sound like I'm being overly harsh on a franchise that could be a lot of fun, but it really isn't to my taste; I'm sure a lot of other people will find some enjoyment in this undeniably insane ride. I did see glimpses of the joy that could be had with the material and enjoyed it occasionally - with the second act surprisingly the strongest. Priced at a reported production budget of $102 million, this actually comes in considerably under what I expected after seeing it on screen, suggesting that the budget has been used well; it actually looks like they've spent much more with the CGI thrown around left, right and centre. Managing to settle down every now and then, we can actually recognise the skin Richie temporarily excites with, including some solid imagery that can be appreciate - including a great departing shot that the film doesn't really earn. Richie's talent is evident in an efficient 'growing' montage in the opening act, after an incredibly exposition-inducing pre-credit stretch, that does some of the heavy-lifting in a short space of time. Production sets are great and the costumes are stylish and appropriate to the setting.

Legend of the Sword's strongest element though? Daniel Pemberton's terrific score - with a creative range of instruments used, sounds created and ideas collected in the score - excellently ekes out some excitement and power to the proceedings every now and then and suggests a fruitful future career for the composer. Oh, and if you've avoided the rumours and reports, there is an incredible 'WTF' cameo moments early in the film that caused quite the stir in the theatre.

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword feels like a muddy combination of Snow White and The Huntsman and The Legend of Tarzan, with a dash of Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice thrown in alongside a typical Game of Thrones' episode template. For those interested, the latter two films both wound up on my top three 'worst films of 2016' and I rather dislike Game of Thrones. Somehow, Legend of the Sword comes out a little better than that, thanks to some nice imagery, a couple of decent performances and a fantastic score from Daniel Pemberton. It has its moments but not enough of them to distract from the whirlwind of chaos the picture continually presents.


Summary: Jarring and messy, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is a dull, surprisingly boring, whirlwind of CGI and special effects that Guy Ritchie's erratic editing and chaotic direction only compound. It has moments of decency but nothing to elevate it past sub-standard blockbuster popcorn trash.