The legend of King Arthur is a muddling affair. Authors have been telling his story for ages and it’s never the same twice – Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is no different.
It’s a very Ritchie movie. Fans will be glad all his hallmarks are there, but it’s also a whole lot of everything else. There are overt nods to many stories that have come before it, including (but not limited to): Lord of the Rings, Robin Hood, Prince of Egypt, King Kong, heck there’s even a little The Little Mermaid in there. While this pastiche approach delivers (borrowed) spectacle, it stops the movie from really finding itself.
Though the title suggest the film is focused on Arthur’s magical sword Excalibur, the film is really the coming-of-age story of Arthur himself. Charlie Hunnam’s Arthur is a ruffian raised by the streets of Londinium, a far cry from the noble knight we expect.
After the evil mage Vortigern (Jude Law) seizes Camelot, Uther Pendragon (Eric Bana) saves his young son (Arthur) by sending him downstream where he’s found by some kind-hearted prostitutes busy doing their laundry on a riverbank. As you can imagine he gets into all sorts of trouble knocking about a brothel during his formative years but fate takes a turn and after he pulls the sword from the stone he’s forced to accept his destiny as rightful king.
Whilst at its very core it sticks to the Arthurian story (man gets magic sword, man saves day, man has round table) it does change, and outright omit, elements we’re familiar with: Merlin is mentioned but not really seen, Mordred is starkly different to legend and Guinevere, Lancelot and Morgana Le Fay are most likely waiting in the wings ready to debut in the sequel/s.
Touches of modernity pervade the film, ranging from popped collars to idiosyncratic banter – it’s ye old England seen through the lens of street-level modern England. The anachronisms do recede when the film is tackling its more fantastical elements and are most prevalent when the action is taking place ‘on the streets’. The resulting tone is a bit of a flip-flop, meaning sometimes you’re watching Snatch and sometimes you’re straight-up watching Fellowship of the Ring. Ultimately, what you’re left with is a lot of frenetic greyscale spectacle with touches of grimy personal interplay.
The resulting movie isn’t great but still loads of fun. The cast is charming and the battles are captivatingly explosive even if they tend to wander quickly into video game territory.
I’ll leave it to the purists of lore to judge if this movie has further muddied the mythos or just dirtied it up a bit.
King Arthur: Legend of the Sword opens Friday 12 May nationwide.