Every decade has its own adaptation of the Arthurian legends: the 60s had the animated The Sword and the Stone, the 70s had the slapstick comedy Monty Python and the Holy Grail, the 80s had the stylish Excalibur, the 90s had the romantic First Knight, and the 2000s had the (slightly) historically accurate King Arthur. Each one of them represents the period of cinema in which they were made, and the same applies to the latest adaptation of the classic medieval stories.
Directed by Guy Ritchie and starring Charlie Hunnam and Jude Law, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is a beautiful mess of a film. From the opening scene, it completely ditches any resemblance of historical authenticity, instead going for a high-fantasy hard-rock action-adventure that we rarely see in cinemas after the incredible success of HBO’s Game of Thrones.
This version of Arthur (Charlie Hunnam) has been raised in a brothel after his evil uncle Vortigern (Jude Law) has killed Uther Pendragon (Eric Bana) in order to control the kingdom of Camelot. But to become the true king of the land, Vortigern has to find Arthur and kill, and to do so he forces all the young man in the land to pull the famous Excalibur (Uther’s magical sword) from the rock, for only the right heir to the throne can wield it. As you might imagine, Arthur pulls the sword and joins a rebel army who fights against the tyrant.
More often than not, blockbusters are products that follow strict guidelines in order to make the most profitable generic film that everyone can enjoy just enough to give it a positive score. What I truly respect about King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is that Guy Ritchie gives zero fucks about what most people like, logic and common sense (sometimes to a fault): there are giant elephants, mages, giant snakes, giant rats, syrens with huge tentacles, Shao Kahn, and a Chinese martial artist named George.
The director was going for a blend between his crime-comedy Snatch and the epicness of The Lord of the Rings. While it is never as funny as the former nor as great as the latter, I was thoroughly entertained from the first frame to the last thanks to very tight pacing and enjoyable scenes. But don’t get me wrong: this is a truly flawed movie. The first 10 minutes are some of the worst I have ever seen in a major motion picture due to very poor editing, some characters have barely nothing to do, and some of the fight scenes were both shot and edited to shit. Other than that, I had a grand old time.
The cinematography is a mixed bag: when scenes are shot on actual sets there are some very good shots, and I loved the epic vistas of Scotland and Wales, but most of the CG-heavy scenes had annoying digital zoom-ins and zoom-outs that kept on distracting me. This might be a problem of the theatre I saw this in, but during the climactic battle set during the night there were constant sparks spurting from the swords, lighting the entire room and forcing me to look away for the stark contrast to the darkness that came before it.
The editing and acting are, just like the other movies by Ritchie, straight out of a cartoon: whenever there was a sequence with quick jump cuts and snappy dialogue I couldn’t keep myself from smiling like the dumb idiot that I am. These sequences are easily the highlight, also thanks to the actors: I quite enjoy Charlie Hunnam’s confident and presumptuous take on the character, as well as Jude Law’s delightful villainous role. The side cast did a competent job, but there are no real standouts: Djimon Hounsou is this generation’s Morgan Freeman (in that he is the token black guy in medieval fantasies), Aidan Gillen is charismatic as always, and Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey is a pretty face that is consistently monotone.
The real standout of the movie is the soundtrack by Daniel Pemberton: most of the tracks are upbeat rock tunes with breathing and screaming that are incorporated perfectly during frantic and quickly-edited scenes, while the more quiet and epic moments have instantly memorable melodies that elevate what is happening on-screen. Also, I am going to have the song The Devil & The Huntsman stuck in my head for days to come. Easily one of the best soundtracks of the year.
Overall, the more I think about King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, the more I like it. While it is objectively full of problems (be it a paradoxically convoluted simple story, annoying editing, glaring plot holes, and over-reliance on special effects), I had so much fun and enjoyment that I barely felt the 2+ hours runtime. It is a thoroughly enjoyable blockbuster that fans of nonsense, trash and high-fantasy are going to have a blast with. Yet another Guy Ritchie movie that divides audiences. I personally am going to watch it again once it comes out on VOD.
Visual Effects: 7
Violence & Gore: 7.5
Sex & Nudity: 5
Drugs & Profanity: 5
Intensity & Horror: 6
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