It’s tough to pinpoint exactly what causes King Arthur: Legend of the Sword to be such a failure without looking deep into the production itself, but that’s research I am very uninterested in doing. At its worst the film reeks of studio standardization. There are multiple CGI battle sequences ripped straight from every post-Lord of the Rings swords-and-shields film there ever was, all woefully inferior. At its best it’s an application of Guy Ritchie’s slick, fast-talking gangster style to an old legend. The thing is, even in these moments where it looks like Ritchie’s sensibilities are emerging from the muck (it’s a very muddy movie, visually), it becomes clear how mismatched his style is to this sort of thing.
This calls into question just what the powers that be were going for with this rendition of Arthurian legend. The movie is stuck between trying something new with the story (Arthur was raised in a brothel and lived a life of petty crime and dishing out street justice until being bestowed the right to the crown), and doing the same old thing yet again (the aforementioned poorly staged battle sequences).
And why, for the love of everything good in this world do people keep hiring Charlie Hunnam?!?!? He’s not necessarily bad in this, but he’s not necessarily anything. He’s the mathematical zero as a placeholder made flesh. Yeah, the dude has a ripped physique and an admittedly strong command of accents, but his charisma is … well it isn’t. He doesn’t have any charisma. Then again, perhaps he’s perfect for this kind of thing, whatever this kind of thing is. I really can’t tell. The film is spends so much time tripping over itself (I’m a fantasy epic! No! I’m a Smokin’ Aces prequel!) that it fails to gather any momentum. If someone with even a modicum of charisma were used it would only feel like that much more of a shame to watch. No lie, within the first five minutes I had pretty much checked out, and felt confident that if I needed to be checked back in the film would cue me to do so. This cue never came.
I should note that I’m rooting for Hunnam. I am desperate to see what so many great directors seem to see. Perhaps The Lost City of Z will do it for me. I trust James Gray.
Speaking of the performances, Jude Law as King Bad Guy comes close to breaking free from the cinematic quicksand he has found himself engulfed in, but he can’t quite pull it off. Had Ritchie been allowed to make the smaller scale Arthurian gangster film which is gasping for air under rivers of bland CGI, Law might have made an iconic villain out of it. Sadly he is relegated to being as forgettable as literally every other character in the cast. People come and go as required by the strips of script pulled from the studio paper shredder, and none, not even Arthur are given any sort of development. More than a few times the film asked me to feel some type of way about a character but all I could offer in response was “who is this person?”
Well, except for Aiden Gillen, aka Littlefinger from Game of Thrones, without whom no medieval movie would be complete. Don’t get me wrong, I have no clue what his function within the story is, but in terms of recognizability, he sure was recognizable! I was all like “Hey! That’s Littlefinger from Game of Thrones! Did I fall asleep and then sleepwalk home from the theater and then put Game of Thrones on??” But then I snapped out of it and realized that I was only falling victim to wishful thinking and the soothing dimness of colorless 3D transfers. And then the cookie I snuck into the theater crumbled all over my shirt and I got doubly sad.
As I said before there are a few sequences which fulfill minimum entertainment requirements simply by virtue of being imaginatively designed. Even a hindered Guy Ritchie is still Guy Ritchie, and if he can survive a high-profile celebrity marriage, he can certainly give even the worst movie some kind of value. Add to that the atypical Irish-folk-chant score and you’ve got a few more pros to help offset the myriad cons. For these reasons I can easily imagine a teenage boy really digging this flick, but I haven’t been one of those in 17 years and oh my god my back hurts just from having said that and it’s about time you got off my lawn because kids these days don’t know how good they have it.
King Arthur: Legend of the Sword opens in Philly theaters today.
Author: Dan Scully
Dan Scully is a film buff and humorist living in a tiny apartment in Philadelphia. He hosts the podcast I Like to Movie Movie and is the proud father to twin cactuses named Riggs & Murtaugh. Also, he doesn’t really mind when Batman kills people. Follow him on Twitter and Letterboxd.