Fast paced and entertaining but let down by poor special effects and a weak lead role.
Guy Ritchie’s take on the legend of King Arthur is almost exactly what you’d expect from the director of the Sherlock Holmes films and the critically acclaimed Snatch. Though whilst fast paced and entertaining, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword falls short in terms of visuals and consistency.
The film follows Arthur Pendragon (Charlie Hunnam) who, after living for years unaware of his true identity, finds out he is the ‘born king’ of Camelot and rightful heir to the throne after he pulls the legendary sword Excalibur from stone. The current king Vortigern (Jude Law) seeks to put down Arthur to avoid revolution bringing an end to his corrupted reign. With the help of former soldier Sir Bedivere (Djimon Hounsou) and a banished Mage (Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey), Arthur aims to defeat Vortigern and restore Camelot to peace.
Whilst he may look the part, Charlie Hunnam is no King Arthur in this movie. Although this is to be expected with Guy Richie’s cockier take on the born king, Hunnam’s flat performance still feels out of place. The way the character is written is also questionable, with Arthur being rather emotionless throughout. Despite the film telling us that Arthur is upset or angry, Hunnam’s performance doesn’t capture this emotion. Luckily though, the supporting cast are mostly great in this movie with Neil Maskell, who plays Back Lack, and Àstrid Bèrges-Frisbey being the strongest actors in Arthur’s band of rebels.
Surprisingly though, the stand out character and performance is Jude Law’s Vortigern. Vortigern has a distinct character arc in this movie as he falls deeper into darkness and further from forgiveness on his quest to retain power in Camelot. His jealously of Arthur justifies the character’s motivation and makes his descent towards evil all the more believable. Jude Law’s portrayal of the character is excellent and the actor does a great job of showing us Vortigern’s decline through expressive acting and well delivered dialogue. Despite being the antagonist, Vortigern was by far the most interesting and best written character of the movie.
As to be expected from a Guy Ritchie film, the movie is fast paced in both feel and dialogue. Most of the time this is for the better as the film has three or four quick witty sequences in which characters deliver what would have been boring exposition in a very entertaining way. All of this is helped by Daniel Pemberton’s upbeat score, which suits the movie’s medieval setting. However, there are times where this pacing feels out of place, particularly when something tragic or supposedly dire has happened as we are more often than not immediately thrown into a hasty, humorous montage. This is distracting and made worse by the fact that most of the film’s jokes, particularly those made by Arthur, fall flat.
Visually the film is a mixed bag with some great shots of Londinium and Camelot being countered by some terrible CGI. Sequences that involve animals look especially bad with a lot of the movie’s budget clearly going into recreating the legendary settings of medieval England. The same can be said for the quality of the fight sequences, which are sadly reminiscent of something out of The Matrix Reloaded in terms of both look and quality.
A quick word on the David Beckham cameo; whilst the footballing great won’t become an Oscar contender anytime soon, his brief performance as Trigger is as good as it could have been with a lot of the criticism of Ritchie’s choice to include him being unfounded. His appearance doesn’t take you out of the film any more than the atrocious looking CGI elephants.
Overall, King Arthur Legend of the Sword is a flawed yet entertaining film that is held up by Guy Ritchie’s trademark pacing and fast, witty dialogue.
King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, directed by Guy Ritchie, is distributed in the UK by Warner Bros. Pictures. Certificate 12a.