Director Guy Ritchie has a very distinctive style. His movies, including a duo of “Sherlock Holmes” films, “RocknRolla” and most recently “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” (which wasn’t a big moneymaker, though a sequel is currently being written), are filled with slow-motion action sequences, extreme close-ups, dialogue scenes that invariably include both flashbacks and flashforwards, and an overall gritty feel.
His latest – a new take on the classic story of the warrior who pulled sword from stone is no different. “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” is vintage Ritchie, which will make his core group of fans and admirers quite happy.
As much as I enjoyed the “Holmes” films (admittedly I had low expectations going into both), they weren’t successful simply because of Ritchie’s directorial touches. Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law carried those movies, and the work of another Arthur (Sir Conan Doyle) was handled with precision and care.
However, this spin on the King Arthur saga feature includes no charismatic characters or performances and, because of that, can’t produce much enthusiasm, even with all the visual trickery. Charlie Hunnam (“Sons of Anarchy”, “The Lost City of Z”) gives a fairly uninspired performance as Arthur, who we first see as a baby, the rightful heir to the throne of Camelot. His father the King (Eric Bana) sends the young Arthur away, alone, during a coup on the castle led by evil uncle Vortigern (played by Law), who’s a couple notches below what we come to expect from sinister movie villains (though he does have his moments).
The rest of the film is the adult Arthur learning his status (after he establishes ownership of the sword) and planning revenge on Uncle Vort. “Legend of the Sword” is one of those movies you can lose yourself in one minute, and then quickly get pushed right out the next. The scene in which Arthur extricates Excalibur from the stone (which features a famous Brit in a fun, surprise cameo) works quite well. Countless conversations between Arthur and his loyal allies? (the eventual knights who will eventually take seats around a certain circular piece of furniture) – not so much.
Mostly it’s the visuals that grab your attention (including a very cool octopus), but the action sequences themselves are nothing new and far from extraordinary. The time travel-esque technique gets repetitive and tiresome. Over the course of the 2+ hours, Ritchie stretches out a brief, key event from Arthur’s youth: first shown in chunks and then twisted-up during the climax.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” gets a C. This isn’t a terrible retelling, but it’s surprisingly safe and a little bland when compared to the enormous array of recent medieval-themed movies.
If a sequel is greenlit (the original plan was to have six installments in this series), and Ritchie is willing to return, I suggest he take-on a real challenge and step outside his comfort zone. In the meantime, he’ll be experiencing “A Whole New World” of filmmaking with his next project, Disney’s live-action “Aladdin” remake, currently in pre-production, with Will Smith in talks to play the Genie.
One can only imagine how that iconic magic carpet ride will look in slow motion.
“King Arthur” Running Time: 126 min.