Movie Review: King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

First, I must report to you that Charlie Hunnam doesn’t spend much (any?) time shirtless in this movie, so if that’s all you care about, I just saved you $13 ($18 if you were gonna see it in 3D).

Objectively, I can’t say this is a good movie. But it’s Guy Ritchie making a Guy Ritchie movie, which I liked, and it’s better than the (allegedly) “historically accurate” King Arthur movie they made with Clive Owens and Kiera Knightly back in 2004. (THAT ONE IS SO BAD. WHY IS THERE A ROMAN DUDE NAMED LANCELOT? WHY.)

So this is a version of King Arthur that pulls in some of the threads from the legends. Merlin exists, sort of. Uther Pendragon is still Arthur’s father, and Arthur is raised as an Everyman, not a prince. There’s a sword, and a stone. And the bad guy is Vortigern, who shows up in histories and literature of Britain (but is, I think, a fairly recent addition to Arthurian lore?) But beyond that, it’s a mostly invented story.

Arthurs hands, gripping Excalibur. At crotch height. It's a metaphor

In this version, Uther and Vortigern were brothers, and Vortigern made a deal to become king by killing Uther and his heir, but Uther manages to get Arthur safe away to Londinium, where Arthur grows up in a brothel. By the time he’s grown up, he’s got a crew that protects the brothel and makes money through basic street gang shenanigans. Vortigern is a mean king, and there’s a Resistance against him. He’s building a tower to make his magic powerful or something… it’s not really important.

Anyway, he’s heard a prophecy that the Born King will come and take the sword from the stone, so his great plan is to round up every man of the right age and have them try to pull the sword. If he finds the Born King, then he’ll be executed and Vortigern will have no challengers for the throne, boom, done, everything is great.

Of course, things don’t go that way, thanks to Uther’s former general Bedivere and a Mage (sent by Merlin), and there’s a muddled mess of a lot happening before Arthur wins and becomes king and builds himself a Round Table.

One thing that makes a Arthur movie work (or not) is how much you lean into the idea that there is magic and wizards and moistened bints lobbing scimitars as a form of government. If you take out that parts that make it awesome, it becomes a bad movie. Guy Ritchie at least understands this concept: there’s magic and giant snakes and yes, a Lady of the Lake. While this was set in vaguely post-Roman England (the Roman bits of Londinium were in various states of decay, which was a nice touch), it’s not pretending to be actual history in events or clothing.

A Lady underwater, holding Excalibur aloft Her hair and gown swirl around her like a jellyfishs tentacles.

Ritchie’s biggest strength is in sharp, quick editing. The montage of Arthur growing up is in spurts of a few seconds that tell the story in images. He’s also very good at sharp and witty dialogue. Some of the accents are a little strong (very East End, I think?) but all the parts where Ritchie was at his most Ritchie-ness, those were by FAR the best parts.

Charlie Hunnam (who we love) is good at all of that. He’s charming and likable, and he can sell himself as a leader of men. I think he did Sons of Anarchy for so long that his accent got a little mushy here and there (he’s English, but he wasn’t using his own accent for Arthur, and a few times he sort of slid into his Pacific Rim accent).

We also now know what a bunch of the dudes from Game of Thrones did on their summer vacation – Aidan Gillam (Littlefinger) and Michael McElhatton (Roose Bolton), for two. Also included are Djimon Hounsou (who doesn’t get enough to do) and Eric Bana and Tom Wu and Kingsley Ben-Adir. A number of the supporting actors aren’t white, which is great (but why is there a kung-fu school in the middle of post-Roman Londinium? I don’t know and neither do you). Still a dearth of women of color, though.

Arthur with Tristan and Bedivere in the background. They're in a fighting stance, he's just looking like My dudes, can we all get along?

But the plot is a mess, and Jude Law as Vortigern is by far the weakest part of the movie. He was doing his best, and we know that he does well in Ritchie movies (please see the Sherlock Holmes movies as proof), but his parts of the movie were the LEAST Ritchie parts, so it was kind of a waste.

The other part of the movie that was the most disappointing (but not surprising) was that there was only one major female character, and she doesn’t even get a name. She’s just The Mage. Katie McGrath got four lines before being murdered, which I am TIRED of, Hollywood! (Although casting a woman who made a name for herself playing Morgana in Merlin in a King Arthur movie is something I appreciate.) Annabelle Wallis plays a woman who probably was more important in previous drafts of the script, but has no real point. None of the major female characters speak to each other. DO BETTER.

My final verdict is this is fun, but not good. If you like Guy Ritchie and/or Charlie Hunnam, this is worth your time (but maybe not at full price).

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is in theaters and tickets (US) are available at Fandango and Moviefone.

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