Hollywood is no stranger to pumping out endless iterations of iconic heroes. Robin Hood (2010), The Lone Ranger (2013), The Legend of Tarzan. All of these films feel like they follow the exact same formula: being a bold and gritty retelling of the classic tale in an attempt to “give us the story as we’ve never seen it before”. Too bad for them it usually ends up coming off as cheap, soulless, and inauthentic. A lot of the fun is stripped away, and we usually end up with ridiculous messes. Cue a new King Arthur film helmed by Guy Ritchie to continue the trend!

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword obviously follows Arthur (Charlie Hunnam), a young, troublemaking lad who raised himself through an awful childhood of violence and abuse. When he pulls the legendary sword Excalibur out of the famous stone, he and everyone else learn he is the rightful heir to Londinium’s throne. This threatens King Vortigern (Jude Law), who stole that rite from Arthur, and he tries to stop Arthur and his pals from taking the crown.

My biggest gripe with fantasy movies, especially ones based off old tales like King Arthur, is that they all feel really homogenized. It’s a lot of people in armor and crowns, hitting each other with swords, shooting people with arrows, and all of the other hallmarks. It’s arguably even less interesting when it’s King Arthur, because you know exactly what story you’re going to get. Sometimes you need to have a director with a distinct vision to come in and spice it up a bit. That’s not always a good thing. Co-writer/director Guy Ritchie is no stranger to period pieces, directing the entertaining Robert Downey, Jr. Sherlock Holmes films. This film feels like a mixture between those, with their highly stylized action scenes, and his older films like Snatch, where a lot of characters banter over frenetic editing and storytelling.

When all of that is mixed into an epic Medieval tale, it doesn’t really work. The film has a massive identity crisis, going from intense action one second, to comedic buffoonery the next. A lot of scenes center around Arthur and his pals planning their next offensive, all intercut with a montage of them putting the plan into action. It was a fun way to convey some of the events and play up the character interactions, but it constantly felt at odds with the grit and grime surrounding them. The fantasy elements also felt oddly incorporated, where it sometimes felt they didn’t feel like they belonged in the world. Could have been due to the awful visual effects. When you mix scenes of British people bantering with absurd action, regal politics, and magical swords and beings, it doesn’t really work.

What we get here is pretty much a superhero origin story, with Arthur having to learn to use Excalibur, work with his mentors, and reclaim his throne. Charlie Hunnam does a decent job as the fabled hero, but his character is everything we’ve seen before. At least they made him funny and witty. The rest of the characters and actors are fine, there to serve their purposes to the plot. Jude Law always fun to watch when he plays a sniveling villain, but when is he never fun? The guy can sneer like no other. An exception to the decent performances goes to Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey as The Mage, Arthur’s guide and mentor. She is just the flattest of the flat, delivering every single line with no discernible emotion. What should have been a cool character like Merlin ends up being a complete flatline.

Not that there’s a whole lot of emotion in the first place. The film is somewhat fun, but it always feels empty. It’s not even entertaining on the action front, and that’s of course due to modern action filmmaking’s number one enemy: awful directing and editing. I had absolutely no idea what was happening during the action scenes. Every shot was three seconds long, with cuts galore. The drab cinematography makes everything look like a grey blur and when Ritchie dares to get a bit colorful and stylish whenever Arthur wields Excalibur, it’s even worse. All of the action moves so fast, like the cameraman can’t keep up or something, but it’s all clearly CGI. There’s no reason to be so incomprehensible, other than to hide the consistently lackluster effects.

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is just another pathetic attempt by some old Hollywood curmudgeons trying to squeeze money out of a property nobody really cares about. I’m not trying to discount King Arthur as a great legend in English history, but who in the world is asking for a King Arthur movie? Who is asking for six of them, which Warner Bros. is apparently wanting to make? I guess the box office will tell. If this one fails, then I can’t wait for the inevitable reboot that will come out a decade from now.


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