Movie Review: ‘KING ARTHUR: LEGEND OF THE SWORD’ smells of elderberries

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Connor Bynum // Film Critic

KING ARTHUR: LEGEND OF THE SWORD
Rated PG-13, 126 minutes.
Director: Guy Ritchie
Cast: Charlie Hunnam, Astrid Bergès-Frisbey, Jude LawDjimon HounsouAidan GillenNeil MaskellKingsley Ben-AdirTom WuAnnabelle Wallis and Eric Bana

Some stories may continue to be told until the end of time. The tale of King Arthur may indeed be among them.

With numerous retellings of the classic legend including THE SWORD IN THE STONE (1963), FIRST KNIGHT (1995), KING ARTHUR (2004), and the recent, short-lived Starz series, CAMELOT (2011), it’s a wonder that studios continue to call us back to Arthur’s world of knights and magic. Having proved himself capable of breathing new life into a tired franchise with his reboot of SHERLOCK HOLMES (2009), director Guy Ritchie once again attempts to show us why his version deserves our attention. Unfortunately, KING ARTHUR: LEGEND OF THE SWORD is a convoluted and chaotic mess that takes every opportunity to assault our senses and intelligence.

After finally ending the war between mage and man, King Uther (Eric Bana) is betrayed by his sinister younger brother Vortigern (an underused Jude Law), leaving his son orphaned and on the run. We are quickly treated to a montage of Arthur (Charlie Hunnam) growing up in the streets of Londinium as an orphan fending for himself and those he loves. England is now under the rule of Vortigern as he ruthlessly searches for the so-called “Born King” so that he may have him killed and secure his right to rule. Only the Born King can pull the magical blade, Excalibur, from a stone beneath the lake, so Vortigern orders that every man of a certain age be tested to pull the sword one by one. Arthur, inevitably, does retrieve the sword, only to refuse its magic power and run from his claim as the true King of England. It’s up to his band of misfit rebels to convince him to accept his destiny.

Charlie Hunnam’s face just about sums up our thoughts on ‘KING ARTHUR: LEGEND OF THE SWORD.’ Courtesy of Warner Bros.

This would make a fine story if were not told in the most ludicrous of ways. Editor James Herbert seems hellbent on taking every opportunity to cut the film at breakneck speed without abandon. There are indeed a few times that this approach hits its mark, but the sheer lack of restraint in the film’s pacing ultimately ends up as simply belligerent and obnoxious. Composer Daniel Pemberton contributes to the chaos with a pulse pounding musical score that literally features a man’s heavy breathing to exhaust audiences even further.

However, the film is not without its enjoyable moments. Ritchie once again exhibits his talent for intricate fight scenes that are often one uninterrupted shot, albeit heavily reliant on CGI. These moments are truly jaw-dropping and have got to be seen to be believed. Ritchie also spares no expense in making his world feel lived in and real. Costumes are elegant and locations are epic in scope. It’s just a shame that the film is so determined to be unique that it loses sight of telling a coherent story.

I have never seen a movie more aggressively intent on reminding me that I was watching a movie. While Ritchie’s ambition certainly knows no boundaries, he simply takes his energy too far and too fast, leaving audiences breathless and confused in his wake. In spite of a handful of enjoyable action set pieces and a visually fascinating world, KING ARTHUR: LEGEND OF THE SWORD is an endurance test that never truly feels worth while.

Grade: C

KING ARTHUR: LEGEND OF THE SWORD opens nationwide on Friday.

About author

Preston Barta

Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.