Sometimes, less is more.
Throw the traditional tale of the Knights of the Round Table into a blender, add a dash of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, then mix it in with any generic, supernatural video game that heavily leans on stylised violence, and ta-da! You’ll have something that resembles Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur: Legend of the Sword.
The world of Camelot has been visited many times before on both the small and silver screens, so I appreciate the need to take some creative liberties on the original material to produce something fresh, but unfortunately, Ritchie’s re-envisioning of this classic story doesn’t quite land.
In Legend of the Sword, you can forget about Guinevere and Lancelot, and forgo any hopes of Merlin hanging around long enough to do anything significant. Instead, as the title suggests, this film is all about the sword in the stone: Excalibur.
Jealous brother to the King (Jude Law) craves power and uses dark magic to steal the throne from his royal sibling (Eric Bana). The son of the King, Arthur (Charlie Hunnam) grows up orphaned in a slum with no knowledge of his heritage, while his Uncle rules Camelot with an iron fist. Resistance fighters loyal to Arthur’s father seek out the “true King” to lead a revolution with the power of the sword, but this Arthur is cocky, belligerent, and of course, reluctant to fulfil his birthright. There’s also a wide range of subplots running alongside this that include (but are certainly not limited to…) a sorceress, a gang of Vikings and a couple of non-white characters who’ve been blatantly shoehorned in for political correctness.
As you can see, we’ve already got a rather convoluted story, but this gets weighed down further by bulky exposition and supernatural mythology. Ritchie’s knee-jerk reaction is to turn to frenetic pacing and chaotic editing to try and keep things interesting. The end result, however, is a mind-boggling whirlwind. The fantastical elements are beyond far-fetched and simply don’t gel with the dialogue heavy, time-jumping style of storytelling.
On the bright side, there is some magnificent production design and cinematography on display, but it has clearly drawn its inspiration from Game of Thrones. In fact, the film tries a little too hard to emulate the HBO series, even borrowing Roose Bolton and Littlefinger for supporting cast roles. It doesn’t ever reach the same level of raw impact during its violent action sequences due to its reliance on well executed, but ultimately excessive visual effects.
Charlie Hunnam does what he can to bring to life this cheeky and obnoxious version of Arthur, but the character’s arrogance and disrespect for authority pushes credibility at times. I found myself constantly questioning the actions and motives of many characters and was not satisfied with the convenient explanations that would pop up in delayed flashback sequences to fill in holes of information.
At the end of the day, Legend of the Sword tries to be too many things at once. While Tarantino’s Kill Bill films and the more recent Get Out manage to successfully meld multiple styles and genre tropes, Ritchie’s King Arthur simply becomes a confusing, hot mess.
King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is available in Australian cinemas from May 18
Image courtesy of Roadshow Films