King Arthur: Legend of the Sword movie review (2017) | Roger Ebert
guy ritchie is that funny friend whose text messages you don’t always answer because his energy level always goes up to 10, and even when you’re in the mood for him, he still drains you. His best entertainments are the candies of 1990s boys’ magazines, packed with funny, well-dressed, tough men (and a couple of women) who break their chops when they’re not joining forces to steal something. they’re the kind of movies you forget they exist until you stumble upon them and end up watching them again because the tone is just right, nervous but upbeat, and not for a moment does the movie pretend that watching it is going to make you a better person. “lock, stock and two smoking barrels,” his two sherlock holmes movies, “snatch,” the bizarre self-help action flick “revolver,” and 2015’s unexpectedly wonderful “the man from un.c.l.e.” They’re a variety of savory treats presented in the most elegant boxes Ritchie can design.
but there are times when ritchie makes his own style the star of the film, displacing the actors and the story because neither is terribly interesting. the result is an oxymoron: frenetic work. Unfortunately, that’s what happens to “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword,” a knowingly anachronistic riff on the legend starring Charlie Hunnam. This version imagines Arthur as a working-class hero with thoroughly contemporary sensibilities. He grew up in a brothel after his father and his mother were murdered by his uncle Vortigern (Jude Law). Vortigern is an unworthy king of England and a spoiled sadist who owes a supernatural debt to the Lady of the Lake, depicted here as a mass of CGI tentacles engulfing three women, one plump and the others slender and curvy.
Ritchie and his co-authors, Lionel Wigram and Joby Harold, aren’t interested in historical fidelity because the historical Arthur was a mystery anyway, and they’re mostly having fun here. They take Arthur’s childhood trauma seriously (he keeps reliving it in nightmare form, like Bruce Wayne remembering the murder of his own parents by a mugger) but ultimately treat it mostly as the centerpiece of a ” standard hero’s journey, one that owes much to the “star wars”, “matrix” and “lord of the rings” movies. when he pulls the sword from the stone, he, us and the bad guys know that he is truly the one; when he grabs it with both hands and then swings it, the ground shakes and the camera starts to circle around and around cgi charlie hunnam and his opponents, in the manner of a 3d video game.
this arthur wears what looks like a brown leather bomber jacket, sports a 2016 movie star haircut, calls everyone “dude” and makes a big show of not wanting to get involved in politics, and much less accept their fate. that is, until circumstances force him to assemble a team of hyper-competent misfit outsiders and ditch the suave style of heist movies, treating each skirmish and siege as if it were another vault the “snatch” boys hoped to empty out. the future knights of the round table are just as contemporary. They are a multicultural team: Sir George in this film is nicknamed Kung Fu George, he teaches Arthur martial arts and is played by Hong Kong-born actor Tom Wu; Sir Bedivere is a Moor played by Beninese movie star Djimon Hounsou. and the Anglo-Saxon actors’ characters are given a coat of Dickensian chimney soot to enhance their good faith. the future sir william (aiden gillen), master of the longbow, goes by goosefat bill wilson.
I love all this stuff in theory – it’s not far from what martin scorsese did in “the last temptation of christ”, populating old jerusalem with new yorkers, midwesterners and brits speaking with their native accent and using modern lingo, slicing and splitting the action into music video beats, and dialing it all in with Peter Gabriel’s chants and synth beats. Ritchie’s sense of style fits with a revisionist approach. he’s as cunning and calm as a rock and roll showman can get, and because the entirety of the movie is so self-consciously absurd, in addition to the acrobatic slow-mo sword fights, there are gigantic cgi snakes, rats, wolves, and godzilla . Indian elephants the size of: It all feels like a joke, even when the characters are being beaten, tortured, and executed. There are even moments when Hunnam, not exactly an actor known for his rascally charm, evokes the Robin Hood incarnation of Errol Flynn. Astrid Bergès-Frisbey’s version of Guinevere, a witch whose eyes turn black when she summons dark forces, is a new twist on the character, though it would have been nice if Ritchie had allowed her to crack a few jokes like the boys.
no, the real problem is that the movie is not modulated from start to finish. he never relents in the same way that a cocaine addict who wants to tell you his life story before they close never stops. Michael Bay has often been accused of putting out feature films so over-edited they look like trailers for themselves, but I don’t think Bay has ever made a film as hectic, pointless, and tediously busy as King Arthur: Legend. of the sword.” not content with doing that story about a time-tested guy ritchie story in every other scene in the movie, you know, the part where a character says to an audience, “and then i say to him” , and the film cuts to the same character five days earlier who says, “leave the money, mate!”; the film does this constantly for two hours, chopping up dialogue, performances, and story points into microscopic narrative particles that disintegrate in the mind.
On one level, you have to admire the skill required to tell a story this way. you can’t just make a six hour movie and then cut it down to two. you have to think about how each piece, no matter how big or small, will fit together with all the other pieces when it comes together as the whole narrative. but the downside of this strategy is that it doesn’t leave room for a single moment to truly live and breathe, and it’s in those moments that we really get to know a character and care about what happens to them. the emotional heavy lifting that could be done carefully acting, writing, and directing is done here in the form of a shortcut through hisses, tilts, swooping camerawork, ominous “buzz” and “boom” noises on the soundtrack, and other indicators of awesomeness. .
There is so much narrative and visual movement, fast cuts, so loud music, and so many rapid changes of time and place that on those rare occasions when the film slows down and lets two characters talk to each other, in relative silence and finally, it feels like something has gone wrong with the projection. Ritchie keeps rushing us through two hours, as if to make sure we never have time to absorb any character or moment, let alone revel in the glorious, unabashed ridiculousness of the whole thing. the entire film is an information delivery device with high-level production values, always confusing getting to the point with the point itself. It is the legend of King Arthur told by an auctioneer. I’m not sold.