When the child Arthur's father is murdered, Vortigern (Jude Law), Arthur's uncle, seizes the crown. Robbed of his birthright and with no idea who he truly is, Arthur comes up the hard way in the back alleys of the city. But once he pulls the sword from the stone, his life is turned upside down and he is forced to acknowledge his true legacy…whether he likes it or not. (from Warner Bros.)
Some directors have a very distinct style, and Guy Ritchie can easily qualify as being one of those such directors. His two-film take on the character of Sherlock Holmes, featuring Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law as Holmes and Watson, are very different than what you'd expect for period films. Yet, Ritchie brings a lot of bravado to those films -- and really, all of his films. 2015's The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was a cool and slick spy film set in the 1960s, and his unique storytelling methods helped to make the film better than it was. For 2017, Ritchie helmed an update on the tale of King Arthur, titled King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, which was a labor of love for the filmmaker. However, the end result is a mixed bag that will certainly not be everyone's cup of tea.
When watching a Guy Ritchie film, you kind of have to know what you're getting yourself into. 2009's Sherlock Holmes was my introduction to his work, and for the most part, I enjoyed the style he brought to the table. His fingerprints were all over the film, but he used his style as a storytelling device more so than a gimmick. But I think, unfortunately, King Arthur proves that it's a style that doesn't work in just any setting. But what's most unfortunate about King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is that the love and appreciation for the story is there, the acting chops are displayed in full, but it's just kind of a mess. It's that kind of movie that has you--on more than one occasion--scratching your head and wondering "What the heck am I watching exactly?" The opening scene shows us gigantic, as-big-as-castles Lord of the Rings-style elephants rampaging through a kingdom and that pretty well sets up the kind of movie and cinematic world you're about to enter into. It doesn't help either that the tone of the film is a bizarre mix of modern and period. Charlie Hunnam is decent in the role, but with his appearance, you'd half expect him to be wielding an electric guitar and not Excalibur. (I just thank God they didn't choose to have him with one of those abysmal "man buns" to complete a truly goofy, over-the-top modern look.) Hunnam, in fact, commits to the role well, but it doesn't feel like he's playing the man who would be "King" Arthur. Meanwhile, Jude Law is excellent as his evil uncle, Vortigern, trading his "good doctor" type role of John Watson for a truly evil antagonist here. The rest of the cast is good, too, stepping into the time period a bit more smoothly than the titular character -- that is, except for the few moments when we see tattoo-covered characters, on a rare occasion, that look more like they accidentally wandered in front of the camera instead of blending right into the scenery.
While the character of Merlin is only mentioned by name, there is indeed a presence of magic and black magic that could make some viewers uneasy. In a choppy and confusing opening action sequence, we see a warlock of sorts influencing attacking armies, while magical forces are used to obliterate opposing forces into smouldering ash. Vortigern then taps into to some kind of dark magic to become a demon-like armor-clad warrior in an attempt to vanquish his brother, King Uther, and take over the kingdom. Later, in one of the biggest "What in the world?!" moments, a large octopus starts to emerge from a pool of water in a cave, only to reveal that it's actually three humanoid sirens (whose topless nudity is covered up by their own long hair) with a tentacled body. We never exactly learn who they are or why they possess any kind of power that they grant to Vortigern. And, years after becoming king, we hear that Vortigern's power is growing, but we don't know how or why. Later, the magical Mage (played by Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides' mermaid, Astrid Bergès-Frisbey) uses her power to conjure up a colossal snake. And, among all this, there's the sequence where Arthur enters some kind of dangerous, magical place where huge rats, bats and snakes are the norm and he must survive it to continue down the path to be king... yeah, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense. As a standalone fantasy film, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword isn't bad, despite still possessing problems, but trying to strike a balance between realism and fantasy doesn't really seem to work very well here.
The content is pretty rough, mostly in regards to violence. There isn't much by way of graphic violence, but there's still a lot of sword and action violence and it's frequently bloody in some respects. One scene shows Vortigern interrogating a character the audience has been following throughout the film, and he slices off his ear before slitting his throat. Both slices are off screen and not graphic, but after Vortigern cuts off the man's ear, we briefly see him holding it in his fingers and speaking into it. Given the time period, though, we see lots of swordplay action and fight sequences, with many characters getting stabbed, sometimes with bloody results. Language isn't frequently problematic, but Law's Vortigern does surprisingly use the "F" word prominently in one scene. Other language is mostly kept to just a handful of uses of "b*stard" and "a--." Finally, aside from the partially nude sirens, Arthur is actually raised in a brothel, so there are some references to that. We also see a montage of Arthur growing up there and he, at first, witnesses men slapping around some of the women in the brothel, until, when he's older, we see him stop it.
Honestly, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword isn't a complete and total loss. It's entertaining from start to finish, even though it can feel like a mess at times. All of the ingredients for a great action epic are present, despite them not really quite coming together as best they could. If you're a fan of Ritchie's style, and aren't bothered by the idea of King Arthur getting the Guy Ritchie treatment, then I think King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is still worth checking out. King Arthur fans will probably cry heresy--and they probably have a right to--but despite its (many) flaws, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is still an entertaining--if not a tad overlong--two hours of fantasy action.- John DiBiase (reviewed: 8/11/17)
Arthur with Swagger (9:41) - Despite the film having a disappointing run at the box office, there are quite a few extras featured on this set. In this first one, we learn that Charlie was a fan of King Arthur as a kid, even having fashioned his own Excalibur out of wood. We also hear about his training for filming, see a lot of B-Roll footage, and hear about Guy and Charlie's friendship on set. This featurette also features a great deal of bleeped-out "F" words throughout it.
Sword from the Stone (18:49) talks about trying to do something different with this film, creating a unique look and feel for the film. It covers costume design, production meetings, animation visualizations, testing some special effects, and lots more.
Parry and Bleed (5:44) is about the rigorous training in the film, stunts and sword fights.
Building on the Past (14:00) opens in October, 2014 with a peek into a meeting with Ritchie and his creative team. The featurette continues on to cover the look of the film, designing and building large sets and even repurposing some for other scenes. It's really impressive to see how much detail went into these sets - from the throne room to Londinium to even reusing pieces of The Legend of Tarzan's sets!
Inside the Cut: the Action of King Arthur (6:08) - Here, we see lots and lots of set footage as stunt coordinator Eunice Huthart directs the action (there's also a lot more bleeped uses of the "F" word and even a couple of the "C" word).
Camelot in 93 Days (10:23) - Guy comments that this film has had the longest preproduction of any of his movies. It goes through some highlights from the production, working on the sets (and in at least one case, making them bigger) and filming in Scotland. (More bleeped out profanity)
Legend of Excalibur (6:05) gives us a look into the painstaking process of designing the iconic sword.
Scenic Scotland (5:33) takes us on location to Scotland where they filmed on the hillside without using any sets. Here, we see even more filming footage, including Charlie's final day of shooting.- John DiBiase, (reviewed: 8/11/17)
Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not exclusively on content. However, if the content really affects the reviewer's opinion and experience of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's overall rating.
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