It’s common for remakes, reboots, and other new takes of old stories to insert a bit of unique flair into the tales we all love and adore. However, this doesn’t always work. In fact some things are better left with their clichés intact. Thus is the case for “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword”, a film by Director Guy Ritchie that, while a rather a somewhat entertaining fantasy epic, tries a bit too hard to insert some youth and modern charm into one of fantasy’s most beloved literary and cinematic figures with all the wrong results.
“King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” is meant to be the first in a franchise of films focusing on the legendary king and his Knights of the Round Table. An origin story in every sense of the word, “Legend of the Sword” combines traditional knight and sword clichés with magic and mysticism as we see Arthur, played by and miscast Charlie Hannam, realize his birth right by removing the sword Excalibur from its stone slab after growing up on the streets of Londinium. Discovered as the rightful king, Arthur becomes the target of his vicious uncle and acting king Vortigern and has to learn to embrace his destiny and the magic of Excalibur to fight back against his tyrannical foe.
I have a lot of negativities to point out for “Legend of the Sword”, so I’m going to focus on the things I enjoyed first. One major plus for this film its incorporation of magic and mystic arts into its story. We meet The Mage, very well portrayed by Astrid Berges-Frisbey in one of the few standout roles of the film, and we learn of the prejudice against magic beings that creates conflict at the start of the film, utilizing a bit of stylish world building that, assuming this film does well enough, could definitely help in defining the direction of possible sequels. The film also has some very entertaining battle scenes, especially the final showdown and the slow-motion fights when Arthur finally chooses to embrace the magic of his legendary sword.
I had mixed feelings about the use of comedy in the movie, which serves as a fitting transition from the good to the bad for this production because while I felt the immature and childish attempts at comedic gold added a much lighter and, in some ways, enjoyable side to a traditionally dry story, we saw the normally noble and honorable King Arthur devolve into a child in man’s clothing full of ego, attitude, and only a little bit of heart and respect for the thrown he would inevitably earn. A little bit of humor is alright for adding to such a tale, but this film goes way over the top into downright ridiculous territory.
While I can respect Ritchie and Hunnam’s attempts to bring a more light-hearted approach to King Arthur, it just feels out of place. I was seriously conflicted because I felt that this approach could have worked, but it just didn’t. For a story as often told as the one of King Arthur it didn’t surprise me to see a new feel for this take on the classic tale, but almost as soon as the first quick-edited collection of puns was presented I concluded this was the wrong direction to take this story. We know Hunnam can pull of a dramatic and serious role very well and here he doesn’t fit Arthur one bit. Maybe he could have milked it, but it almost seems like they formed this movie around who they wanted to play the character not the other way around, as it really should be. Hunnam does what he can with the material given to him, but in the end his acting and the humor are overall bland and more strange than entertaining.
And that is kind of what’s wrong with this movie as a whole. The entire film seems like a mish mash of different styles, images, and storylines meant to breath some new life in a story that already has plenty to spare. To use one word again, it’s all quite strange. We get some glimpses at Arthur’s life growing up, but this is literally fast-forwarded to provide us with nothing more than visual exposition. The same goes for many portions of the film, which come off as extremely sloppy, poorly thought out, and bland at best.
I read in one review that this film would be better off turned into a series and I honestly agree. It feels like the filmmakers tried to fit too much into a little over two hours of screen time. The audience is given little to work with and we’re just expected to be entertained. To give the film a little credit, it is easy to sit back and allow yourself to have some fun watching swords clash and characters throw barbs at each other, but this adds nothing to the legacy of King Arthur or to the credibility of any of the actors on screen who all seem to be having a good time but come off as no more than cosplayers at a renaissance fair in the end, each receiving just enough character development to remind us later on that we’re supposed to care about them in some way.
I honestly wanted to enjoy “Legend of the Sword” and to some extent I did. I can’t lie, it is a fun movie if you’re looking for a bit of escapism. It’s exciting at times and it is a bit fun to see some more youthful energy injected into these characters and the story, but this is not the King Arthur I personally wanted to see. We have seen more modern elements of humor and entertainment incorporated in knight-based movies in the past, such as “A Knight’s Tale”, and I actually believe this film would have been better served playing out as a more unique original story than trying to feed off of the legacy of a character many already know and love for his darker adventures and more noble tendencies.
For all it’s entertainment value, “Legend of the Sword” is still no more than bland and rushed storytelling, out-of-place comedy, forgettable characters, and a few entertaining action scenes all wrapped in a thin outer coating of epicness and mysticism that may prove to be enjoyable to more casual movie goers, but if you’re looking for quality, heart, and pretty much anything that makes King Arthur such a compelling character other than a few great flashy battle scenes this is not the film for you. Sadly, “Legend of the Sword” had potential, but it doesn’t really add much to the story of King Arthur and fails to inject anything new or interesting to make this worthy of continuing this take on such a timeless tale any further.