We all know the legend of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table...heck, to say it's been given more than just a few big-screen treatments over the years would be an understatement. Director Guy Ritchie is the latest filmmaker to take a stab at the tale, with "King Arthur: Legend of the Sword," a dizzying, stylized take that looks not only to re-invent the swash-buckling hero, but to begin the construction of a film franchise around him as well.
Like trying to dislodge Arthur's famed sword Excalibur from a stone, this version will require some effort and patience on behalf of the audience. Guy Ritchie fills every frame with the kinetic energy of a music video, confidently trying to add depth to a story that is so familiar it might make some fall asleep. Trust this: You will not fall asleep during this film. It is told in such a fast-paced, brazen style that I had to use the hand-rails to walk my shaking body out of the theater.
The choice of a high-energy re-telling of King Arthur is a bit jarring at first. Most who have tried have chosen to treat this medieval tale with a certain grace and respect, and it's not that Ritchie doesn't...it's just that he decided to shake up the traditional ways of story-telling like a snow-globe. In "Legend of the Sword" we basically get an origin story where King Arthur (the charismatic soon-to-be-A-lister, Charlie Hunnam) is given a background and some depth. He is the rightful heir to the Kingdom's throne, being the son of Uther Pendragon (Eric Bana), although he doesn't know it because he's been raised in exile away from a life of royalty. Uther's dastardly brother, Vortigern (Jude Law) knows that the Pendragon bloodline must be ended and that Arthur is out there somewhere, so he stares out from his castle tower with a contemptuous sneer, like villains tend to do. When a low tide reveals Uther's famed magical sword Excalibur stuck in a stone...well, you know the rest.
Usually directors are criticized for using and over-using flashback sequences, and "King Arthur: Legend of the Sword" may contain more flashback sequences than the entire run of "Lost." But Ritchie uses them not just as a gimmick, but as an innovative story-telling technique...I found it to be mostly effective, if not a bit confusing and over-stated from time to time. It's also used for comedic effect and to speed through segments that other, lesser, action films might have spent more time on. Again, Ritchie's confidence behind the camera is palpable, and yet he never crosses the line into full-blown auteurism.
Hunnam, indeed, is a fine actor and a great choice to build a saga around. As are the surrounding players like Aidan Gillen, Neil Maskell, Djimon Hounsou, Craig McGinlay and Kingsley Ben-Adir. The plot itself is basic, lending itself to the standard sword-swinging action that this movie tries to break free from, but it disappointingly goes the route of too much CG and easy, manipulative tropes as it descends towards what is supposed to be its climax. Giant snakes and cheesy effects aside, I was with King Arthur until the very end.
Ritchie's version finally lands where most movies might choose to begin, clearly setting up the hopes that there will be future chapters ahead. Merlin for example, is present and mentioned often but never appears in this one. And the "Round Table" itself is seen only under construction, like the Death Star, sure to be operational at some point in the next film.
"King Arthur: Legend of the Sword" may not possess the same magic as other, better Summer blockbusters, but it's an enjoyable adventure nonetheless that breathes new life into a stagnant mythological saga.
Genre: Action, Adventure, Drama
Run Time: 2 hours 6 minutes, Rated PG-13
Starring: Charlie Hunnam, Jude Law, Eric Bana, Djimon Hounsou, Astrid Berges-Frisbey, Craig McGinlay, Kingsley Ben-Adir, Neil Maskell
Co-Written and Directed by Guy Ritchie ("The Man from U.N.C.L.E.," "Sherlock Holmes," "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows," "RocknRolla," "Revolver," "Snatch," "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels")
This movie opens everywhere Friday May 12, 2017 (check for showtimes).