The prologue of King Arthur: Legend of the Sword involves King Uther Pendragon (Eric Bana) successfully fending off an attack from the wizard Mordred with the power of Excalibur. He is soon betrayed afterwards, however, by his power-hungry brother Vortigern (Jude Law). Uther manages to send his son floating downriver to Londinium, where he is picked up and raised by the city’s prostitutes. Arthur (Charlie Hunnam) grows up to be the tough leader for a gang of small time crooks, and he seems to be pretty satisfied with his lot in life. But whether he likes it or not, he has a greater destiny waiting for him; one that will force him to confront his past.This new version of the King Arthur tale is directed by Guy Ritchie, who is still probably best known for his scrappy British gangster pictures, namely Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch. That version of the director is still visible in this movie, largely in early portions that sketch out the criminal life of Arthur and his cronies. The film moves with surprising velocity through the bullet points of his upbringing, zipping through brief glimpses of a hard knock life before moving into a signature Ritchie sequence that has Arthur and his gang trying to explain an incident to a medieval version of a crooked cop character. But then the film slows down considerably as it tries to retell the Arthur legend. The film’s main conflict lies in Arthur’s unwillingness to take up the responsibility of leading people against a clearly evil king, even when he’s already been granted the tremendous advantage of a magical sword that basically makes him invincible. The more the film becomes a fantasy adventure, the more it loses the plot. It just doesn’t seem to be all that interested in embracing the legend, the movie only really coming to life when it gets to play gangster within these medieval trappings.The film lacks a distinct sense of grandeur for a fantasy epic. It seems determined to make everything look gray and dull, even when things are supposed to be getting all magical. There are only a couple bits of memorable design in the whole project, with the vast majority of its runtime operating with little indication of any kind of imaginative thinking. This is, perhaps, the most visually boring depictions of camelot in the history of cinema. The film is so averse to the romance of the story that it just strips all the color away.The action is similarly dull, Ritchie showing little interest in the VFX-heavy fighting. The movie cuts too quickly between shots, never really capturing the majesty of what’s going on. This all culminates in a climactic sequence that looks dark and muddy and involves elements that pretty much come out of nowhere. There is no sense of geography or progress or even just a logical sequence of events. Stuff just happens, and one can almost feel Ritchie asleep behind the wheel. The film does not lack for solid performances, though. Charlie Hunnam and Jude Law are perfectly all right within the limts of what the writing allows them to do.King Arthur: Legend of the Sword doesn’t want to be what it is. The movie just dies when it really gets down to telling the story of a king. It doesn’t show any particular love for the story, or even an impulse to fix the things it doesn’t like. It is a decent medieval gangster movie that has to share space with a legend that it has no intention of really bringing to life. And the result is far more tedious and forgettable than your average VFX-driven fantasy epic.
KING ARTHUR: LEGEND OF THE SWORD IN CINEMAS NATIONWIDE ON MAY 17.