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King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

KING ARTHUR: LEGEND OF THE SWORD is not your father’s King Arthur. Nor is it your John Boorman’s King Arthur, your Broadway’s King Arthur, your Disney’s King Arthur, your Jerry Zucker’s King Arthur or your Antoine Fuqua’s King Arthur. It’s not even your 300‘s King Arthur, even though it opens with two armored, King Kong sized war elephants laying siege to Camelot. One of them swings a wrecking ball from his trunk, the other has a pyramid on his back. It spews flames like some kind of crude engine and contains the evil Mage King Mordred (Rob Knighton). That is until King Uther Pendragon (Eric Bana in another Oh cool, it’s Eric Bana / Oh wait, he’s only gonna be in the beginning part, isn’t he? role) jumps aboard and introduces the inside of the sorcerer’s neck to Excalibur.

Yeah, there’s more crazy fantasy where that came from, or at least a couple more giant versions of animals (snake, bat), but mostly this stays true to the description Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur. Like he did with Sherlock Holmes, he recasts Arthur (Charlie Hunnam, GREEN STREET HOOLIGANS) as a streetwise brawler. He was sent away (like Superman) but in a boat (like Willow) to avoid being killed by his evil uncle Vortigern (Jude Law, eXistenZ), but also he witnesses his father being murdered (like Batman) and then grew up in a brothel (like Richard Pryor). In adulthood, we first meet him having just avenged some vikings who (at the very least) beat up one of the ladies. I’d like to think he’s just a loyal family member and not their pimp. 

Anyway, he’s been hustling since childhood, and some of the future knights of the Round Table are currently his “lads,” with nicknames like Wet Stick and Back Lack. Also he learned to fight from Kung Fu George (Tom Wu, OUT FOR A KILL, BELLY OF THE BEAST, THE TOURNAMENT), so there’s a combination aging/training montage.

Many will find LEGEND OF THE SWORD unbearably obnoxious for the exact reasons I found it fresh. Ritchie doesn’t see any reason not to Ritchie it up with hyperactive montages and time jumps, fast, slangy dialogue and storytelling gimmicks like skipping forward to the elite knights turning their noses up to Arthur while he’s still predicting that that’s what they’ll do when he goes to them. Ritchie’s Arthur also follows a very current ideal of burly male style: the shaved on the sides, pomaded on the top hair with the lumberjack beard, a wool lined jacket that Ryan Gosling might wear – surprisingly no tattoos or twirly mustaches though.

The brothel gets raided by the Blacklegs – cops who wear cool metal masks – because it turns out the vikings were protected by the king. Diplomatic immunity! He makes a run for it (jumping across roof tops but sadly not quite parkour) but gets stopped and carded (they check for a brand on his wrist) and shipped off on a boatload of men who have to try to pull the sword out of the stone.

He’s kind of an asshole and cuts in line, which at first I thought was to save everybody some time by getting it over with, but it turns out he didn’t know he was gonna be able to pull it out and spray a bunch of magic everywhere.

Anyway Arthur and the lads team up with some rebels including the elite archer Goosefat Bill (Aidan Gillen, 12 ROUNDS, BLITZ), his dad’s friend Sir Bedivere (Djimon Hounsou, ELEPHANT WHITE) and a Beast Master lady credited as “The Mage” (Astrid Berges-Frisbey, PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES) who I guess is Merlin’s intern or something, so she takes care of the magical shit as well as the having one female in the movie. A modern touch I got a kick out of was when they’re in a tower planning to assassinate the king from a distance and Goosefat Bill unrolls his bow and arrows from a blanket like they always do with sniper rifles in movies.

The score by Daniel Pemberton (THE COUNSELOR) is sometimes dominated by fast and heavy percussion and rhythms that suggest a medieval version of electronic dance music.

It would be cool if every once in a while the Mortal Kombat guy yelled “LEGEND OF THE SWORD!”

I honestly think it could use some rock ‘n roll like KULL THE CONQUEROR or A KNIGHT’S TALE, but they leave it at some kind of warbly old timey folk ballad thing called “The Devil and the Huntsman” by British singer Sam Lee.

Believe or not, the pleasures are not all surface. In the prologue, King Uther, on the advice of Bedivere, makes the wise decision to not blame all “Mages” for the elephant attack, namedropping Merlin as an example of a Mage who has greatly contributed to the kingdom. This is kind of like the opposite of 300’s kill ’em all and throw your own soldiers off a cliff for being born with birth defects militarism. But racial/religious conflict is less an interest to Ritchie than class themes. The movie argues that Arthur is only capable of defeating his evil uncle because of his struggles in life. Had he been able to stay safely in the castle (and had his father not been killed by a demon straight out of a Frank Frazetta painting) he’d be some dumb rich kid who could never pull it off.

That’s also kind of the theme of Ritchie-associate Matthew Vaughn’s KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE, except LEGEND OF THE SWORD leaves you confident that in the sequel Arthur will still have love for the streets, he won’t turn into a fancy lad. They present him as some guy you got into a fight with at a bar but then you talked to him and realized he wasn’t such a meathead and now you’re kinda friends. At the end (SPOILER I guess?) he’s brought a bunch of dudes together and started building his Round Table and is gonna be a relatable bro-king. And I totally didn’t pick up on I but learned from reading articles about casting that “The Mage” is apparently supposed to be Guinevere. So they’ll fall in love and they’ll introduce Sir Lancelot but hopefully he’ll be an orc or an extreme athlete or something.

Wait, what’s that you said? LEGEND OF THE SWORD is expected to lose $150 million? So it is possible that the six film series they originally announced was a little too ambitious and might not necessarily happen per se? Well, that’s a poor attitude. I’ll keep my fingers crossed.

Part 1 of 1 actually fought a long battle to be up there on the screen where I saw it with two other people in the theater one week after release. Ritchie originally developed a King Arthur script with TRAINSPOTTING writer John Hodge, but it (and a Bryan Singer remake of EXCALIBUR) got cancelled in 2011 when Warner Brothers thought they were gonna do David (WEDDING CRASHERS) Dobkin’s ARTHUR & LANCELOT, a buddy movie version starring Kit Harrington and Joel Kinnaman. When that got too expensive Ritchie got in there again but he used a different script by Joby Harold. (Dobkin ended up with a producer credit.) And then after all that it turned out America still wasn’t ready for King Arthurmania. At least not in this version.

Hunnam is one of these guys who ended up starring in a bunch of big movies before the world seemed entirely sold on him. I’m not ready to follow him into battle, but I found him to be a more compelling presence here than in the arguably better PACIFIC RIM. Ritchie manages to build him up to be pretty cool, but lets him down a little with action that’s more generic than the rest of the movie. It’s fine, and it’s cool that the climactic battle takes place inside his own childhood flashback, but I think a few more spectacular feats of violence would drive the character and the movie home.

Also, like most sword movies these days, it could use some god damn color. The occasional yellow fire is not enough.

I can’t swear on a Blu-Ray of CONAN THE BARBARIAN (original) that this is on the level of Ritchie’s fantastic THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. two summers ago. But I am addicted to matinees of the lowbrow fantasy sword dude subgenre, and this was more fun for me than most of them. I guess it comes down to this: if the idea of Guy Ritchie doing a sword and sorcery movie without pretending not to be Guy Ritchie makes you smile, then this is worth seeing.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Monday, May 29th, 2017 at 11:51 am and is filed under Action, Fantasy/Swords, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

42 Responses to “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword”

  1. I kind of dug it until the final cgi fight sequences. What’s wrong with having a sword fight look like a proper sword fight without cgi cameras swirling all over the place? Anyway, any film that gives Neil Maskell (he was Blue’s Dad) a large role can never be all bad. He’s a fantastic actor.

  2. I meant to go see this in place of ALIEN5 but every theater I went to already had it off the marquee. Even JASON MAMOA IS: CONAN lasted longer in theaters it seems. A shame cause this looked way better than the Clive Owen one.

  3. Since I’m all pro super stylish Guy Ritchie, I was sold on the movie, when the first trailer hit. Haven’t seen it yet, though, but this review made me even more excited.

  4. Is this going to go down as the biggest bomb Vern has liked since John Carter?

  5. No, but only because LONE RANGER came out after JOHN CARTER. (Although we have to determine which movie was more expensive and lost more money.)

  6. This movie was the surprise of the year so far. I did not know I needed a Guy Ritchie King Arthur film, but this was a blast. I had a smile plastered on my face the entire time. I’m glad Vern mentioned the music, which is one of few modern scores that I can remember even after leaving the theater. I have no clue how this thing could have cost $175 million, unless that counts all of the development that took place before Ritchie was even at the (round) table. It’s a real shame that the film bombed, because I would have been up for five more of these. But I don’t necessarily blame people for staying away. Those trailers made it look awful, and for whatever reason critics had their knives out.

  7. The Undefeated Gaul

    May 29th, 2017 at 2:59 pm

    Every couple of years they throw a new King Arthur film and/or tv show at us and every time it’s shit, because they keep ignoring the best version of this story that’s ever been thought up by someone even though it’s been around since the nineties. I’m talking, of course, about the book trilogy by Bernard Cornwell called The Warlord Chronicles. I would give my left butt cheek to have had Ridley Scott direct that shit (at least the first, best part, The Winter King) circa 2003 or so. But with each new cinematic incarnation I’m getting more convinced that it will never fucking happen. Besides, the time of the big budget R-rated historic battle film is long past anyway, so even if they’d do it now it would be PG 13 bullshit.

    At least we’ve now got that BBC show The Last Kingdom based on Cornwell’s other, equally cool book series. That’s half decent, as long as you pretend you’ve never seen Game of Thrones and realize how good it could have been had they REALLY put some effort into it.

    As for Ritchie’s version, seems like a film that I would maybe watch some day, as long as I won’t have to pay anything to do it.

  8. CrustaceanLove

    May 29th, 2017 at 5:04 pm

    This is one of those box office disasters that everybody could smell coming from a mile away. Just put it on the pile with the rest. No, not there, that spot’s reserved for VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS, put it with WORLD OF WARCRAFT, BEN-HUR, GODS OF EGYPT and all the other would-be film franchise fantasy sword boondoggles. If nothing else I hope this will be a cautionary tale to film producers that a certain percentage of the population being familiar with a story does not necessarily indicate an appetite for a film adaptation of said story, let alone a hip, Guy-Ritichified, this-ain’t-your-daddies-Arthurian-legend version.

    That said, I will probably see it eventually and find bits and pieces to like about it, like I did all the films listed above (except BEN-HUR, because even I have my limits).

  9. I thought this was very enjoyable. I agree that the Guy Ritchie-est parts (the growing up montage, Arthur and his gang recounting the events of the day, Arthur’s prediction of how the meeting with the nobles will go) were highlights. It was fun to see his style in this setting.

    I don’t know why it had to cost that much money to make, though, and I don’t know why studios keep floating those crazy budgets for these movies based on old-timey properties (John Carter, Lone Ranger, Tarzan) — I always seem to like them, but the general public doesn’t seem to care.

  10. I think it would be hard to be a producer and try to figure out what non-comic book property you could make that would do blockbuster business.

  11. What year is it supposed to be in the movie?

  12. Crustacean as a fan of Luc Besson, i hope VALERIAN doesn’t flop too badly. I like what i am seeing so far.

  13. As an Englishmen, I’m a bit tired of these “gangsta” reinterpretations. It’s either pesky little cockneys, or posh Kings Speech nerds, and it’s tiresome. Sherlock Holmes 1 was okay, but mainly because of the charisma of RDJ. The second really wore out it’s welcome. I know Richie has more tricks up his sleeve (Man from Uncle was awesome) than simply Streeting up stories that have been told a hundred times before. Like Tim Burton, I wish he’d stop remaking shit and just go back to original work.

    Totally agree with Crustacean that it was obviously going to be a massive disaster long before it hit the screen. The Ladish culture who this kind of garbage appeals to in the UK are too cheap to actually pay to go and see it. They’d rather get it on their chipped Kodi box for nothing.

    But that is not to say that all swords and sandals films are destined to fail. Look at 300, for example.

  14. I don’t always understand why people are fascinated with the box office of movies, which too often they try to make correlate with the quality of the film. And while I sometimes think I can see poor marketing, If I’m being honest, I don’t know what makes the public go see a movie any more than these studios do. When it comes to this King Arthur movie, I thought the trailers made it look like rehashed Lord of the Rings instead of the fun and clever film it actually ended up being. But I also thought the first John Carter trailer, which apparently was the worst thing since Pol Pot, was really intriguing and made me want to go see the movie.

    I actually quite liked many of the major bombs of the 2010s, from John Carter to The Lone Ranger to King Arthur. I wish audiences would give these movies a go, and I think they might like them if they actually got around to seeing them and ignoring the fact that it’s now common sense to say that they lost money and therefore are very bad film. Also, I think Valerian looks fantastic, and I hope people actually see it.

  15. I really want to be excited about the new Besson sci-fi joint but it’s got a cast problem. Whathisface the Salamander Boy is a good actor but “likable” is kind of the opposite of what he does; a victory for him is when you only hate him 90%. Then there’s that model chick who I guess I was supposed to think was a big deal when she was in SUICIDE SQUAD but I never heard of her and all she did was stand around scowling. I just can’t see myself wanting to spend a whole epic adventure following those two around.

    Also if they’re not playing brother and sister, why do they look exactly like brother and sister?

  16. I’m with you Mr. M

    Leo’s Bizarro and the latest model to think she has something to offer cinema completely discouraged me as well; and I’m one of those hip Besson fans who brags about being obsessed with LA FEMME NIKITA as a kid when it was fresh. Even saw POINT OF NI RETURN at the cinema cause of my NIKITA enamoration.

    Yet I’ll have to sit this one out till at least cable. It looks gorgeous but Bruce and Milla those 2 are not. They feel like total non-entities in the trailers.

  17. Well, I like that one woman’s eye brows and she and that guy who annoyed me in every single thing I saw him in, look like what humans from a crazy French future would look like, so I kinda approve of their casting on a visual level. That said, I hope VALERIAN will be a huge success (although I kinda doubt it), because our multiplexes need much more space adventures, that aren’t called STAR WARS and it’s easier to get them greenlit that way.

    On a side note: I always keep forgetting how much I like Luc Besson’s movies until I watch one of them.

  18. There’s a very good chance I’ll go see it anyway just for the eye candy. But man, those two do not seem like they can carry a movie. The trailer makes them feel more like comedy relief henchmen.

  19. I’m super stoked for VALERINE. I always liked the comics and, at least at one time, was a big Besson fan. I recently did a Besson-a-thon to get ready for VALERINE (just his directed-works, I’d need a whole year to include his written/produced works as well) and had a fun time except when I had to watch the ARTHUR trilogy. So far I’ve loved everything I’ve seen on VALERINE… except for the leads. They are the only aspect giving me pause but I’m already sold on it and hope for the best.
    -I too feel VALERINE is going to be a big bomb at the box office. I’m very bad at box office predictions though.

    PS – Wish I could add to the discussion of KING ARTHUR… Like the rest of the world I have not seen it just yet. Had a free pass for a preview screening but no one would go with me so I just stayed home.

  20. As a British person who was 12/13 when Lock, Stock came out, and who watched that film and Snatch with friends probably far too many times in the years thereafter.. I found this movie incredibly annoying. Every time Arthur or some other character started up with another “well this is ‘ow it ‘appened, right..” – which seemed to be every ten minutes – I was ready for them to stop almost immediately.

    I can’t say I really disliked it. It wasn’t incoherent, there was at least one scene (the assassination) that I really enjoyed, and the plot moved along acceptably (though with some points in it that I didn’t like – POSSIBLE SPOILERS I REALLY DON’T KNOW for example I thought the giant snake was laughable, and what was with the octopus women? end possible spoilers). But enough of it was annoying that that was my main impression on leaving the theatre. Also, I didn’t even see it in 3D and the stop-start whooshy-camera action when Arthur learned how to use Excalibur felt like it was making me nauseous, which is a first.

    I am also a big fan of Arthurian books and films though, so. I did like John Carter, since everyone’s mentioning that.

  21. “I don’t always understand why people are fascinated with the box office of movies,”

    I don’t get it either, a good movie is a good movie even if it flopped, people treat whether a movie made or money or not as an indicator of quality which it really, really, really isn’t, a movie suceeds based on marketing, not on whether the movie itself is any good.

    Plus people too quickly forget how many movies that are considered classics now flopped in theaters like THE SHINING or THE THING.

  22. Sabalos: Totally agree. I know he’s trying to juxtapose his obsession with the streets with the actual story itself, but c’mon. What’s next? Cockney Samurai film? Guy Richie does the Dollar trilogy, but gives The Man With No Name a backstory as a London street urchin? Gangster Pretty Woman???

  23. Off topic (slightly), but have any of you bro’s seen Ironclad? I’m at the halfway point and it’s a pretty brutal men on a mission siege flick set in medieval England. James Purefoy is doing the badass schtick nicely.

  24. JM: Ironclad was really decent. I preferred Centurion (sort of like the Eagle but with Fassbender and Dominic West), but Ironclad had some good sword slaying segments that are worthy of a watch.

  25. The Undefeated Gaul

    June 2nd, 2017 at 2:17 am

    I thought Ironclad was alright, although that horrendous love subplot should have been cut. Just scene after scene of Kate Mara trying to seduce James Purefoy who just ignores her until she goes away. I wish Purefoy had been given better roles throughout his career. Such a fun actor, great at playing a badass but never had a really good film to do it in (Solomon Kane was a bitter disappointment as well). After seeing how great he was in Rome I figured there’d be great things ahead for him, but it never happened.

  26. The Undefeated Gaul

    June 2nd, 2017 at 2:18 am

    I think he was in the running for Bond as well at some point. Would’ve been a great choice.

  27. The dude is Hap Motherfuckin’ Collins despite being about as East Texas as a can of spotted dick. I think he’s doing fine.

  28. The Undefeated Gaul

    June 2nd, 2017 at 7:24 am

    He’s working, so of course he’s fine. Don’t think he’ll be complaining. I am though – feels like he could have done a lot more interesting things.

  29. I think some people are obsessed with box office numbers because it is a good thing when some horrible concept you knew was going to fail does indeed fail miserably, like GODS OF EGYPT, or when an unnecessary cash grab sequel fails to make up its budget. With all the well-deserved whining about the dearth of new ideas in Hollywood in the last 10-20 years it is important to note when stupid ideas fail and when great new ideas have runaway financial success. Because the only way we’re gonna get great new movies that are destined to be classics 20 years from now is if some of the true artistic directors and stars who push the boundaries actually get the chance to spend a bit of money on their 2nd or 3rd big projects, and get the go ahead from the producers to do it their way instead of their picture getting studio meddled to death. This is how we get new Chris Nolans and Ridley Scotts and George Millers. Of course, unfortunately, it’s also how we get Wachowskis and Burtons and Lucases — directors whose initial runaway success give them way too much free reign over their later output.

    Producers can pretend to be happy that they made an artsy movie that lost millions, but it’s gotta hurt. Who has $175 million to throw at GODS OF EGYPT for fucks sake? How could you possibly think this was a good investment? And why does a King Arthur movie need to cost that much either? Where is the money going?

  30. Undefeated Gaul: yeah I totally agree, the romantic sub-plot was pointless. Dude was a Templar, they’re men of God. I doubt he would have had time for a castle thot.

    But in regards to Purefoy, I really wish he would get more action projects. He isn’t a physically imposing guy, but he sells it pretty hard. I mean yeah, Solomon Kane was a massive let down, but despite this he still gave 100%. I could see him well utilised in a gritty Pierre Morel European actioner with a low to medium action clarity rating.

  31. I liked Purefoy in the Rome series a while back. Reminded me a bit of a young Brando, looks-wise. But I’ve yet to be convinced he isn’t an actor who’s more suited to the stage than the screen. There’s a bit of a charisma deficiency there, for my tastes.

    And I patiently gave The Following one season to win me over. Everything about it just came off ham-fisted. Like they thought the 90’s never happened and the megalomaniac serial-killer plot was a new invention.

    Maybe it’s not his fault and like you guys are saying he just needs the right role. I don’t know.

  32. The Undefeated Gaul

    June 7th, 2017 at 4:38 am

    Oh, The Following was absolutely terrible. Despite being a fan of both Bacon and Purefoy that show was just irredeemable shite. I gave up after the first two eps, then later randomly caught another ep in the second season, and knew I made a wise decision.

    Purefoy not being charismatic sounds crazy to me though. With the right role (which he does need, he’s not the type of actor who can elevate any part no matter how badly it’s written) I think he’s fantastic, and he’s not nearly had enough chances to showcase that imho.

  33. The Undefeated Gaul

    June 7th, 2017 at 4:43 am

    I have to admit, his part in Rome is what I’m basing most of my fandom on. It was my introduction to him and I was immediately like, I love that guy! Maybe he’s like James Marsters on Buffy, just one part that he happened to be good at but pretty generic in anything else?

  34. I think it’s all about landing the right roles (obviously) and finding a niche. There’s few actors who can traverse the industry as drama/romcom/action stars from one film to the next. Those who can are Oscar folk, the Tom Cruises, the Johannsons etc. An actors limitations also need to be taken into consideration – I doubt JCVD will ever make a decent romantic comedy, for example.

  35. Hey, I liked THE FOLLOWING. At least season 1. It was an entertaining, weekly serial killer B-movie. Of course there really was no reason to continue the story after the season 1 finale, yet they did and THAT was a waste of time and money.

  36. The Following lost me when they used a pace maker because he got stabbed in the heart. Not a thing.

    Also,James Marsters is now a really good audio book reader with the Dresden files. Real good stuff.

  37. Marsters is such a strange case. He played my favorite character in any medium, showing incredible versatility by pulling off comedy, action, villainy, romance, pathos, tragedy, buffoonery, heroism. The works. He makes a joke, it lands. He gives a speech, it soars. And all with a flawless fake accent. And he wasn’t just a showboater, either. He made every actor he shared a scene with better. Yet I’ve literally never seen him in anything else. You’d think any show would jump at the chance to add him to their cast, but it seems like it’s been all guest spots on shows I’ve never seen since ANGEL ended. I used to get a half-second of hope every time James Marsden got cast in something, despite being the very definition of adequate, but now even that is gone. How does that happen? Is it just because nobody recognizes him without the hair and accent? It looks like he’s pretty much just a voice actor now, which is no doubt good work if you can get it, but I don’t watch cartoons so I don’t get the chance to see what else he can do.

    I keep hoping Whedon will cast him in BATGIRL.

  38. I think it all really went to shit for Marsters once he did that DRAGONBALL movie. He was doing ok before that. A shame cause Spike is like the only thing from those shows that I still like.

  39. The Undefeated Gaul

    June 7th, 2017 at 9:34 am

    I wonder if Marsters wouldve had a better career after Buffy if he had actually been British. I think he might have, honestly.

  40. It was definitely jarring the first time I heard him use his real accent. Maybe casting agents feel the same way.

  41. He was able to successfully work with his real accent on a Buffy knock off for several years though. As one of Superman’s greatest enemies and greatest allies at that.

  42. DRAGON BALL EVOLUTION wasn’t good for anyone’s career.
    -Funnily I recently tracked down a Japanese DVD and watched it with the Japanese dub. It wasn’t any better still.

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