King Arthur: The Legend of the Sword is a non-stop, fast paced romp through the realm that someday will become Camelot, with enough magic, both dark and light, to keep anyone who is a fantasy aficionado gobbling down their popcorn and suspending disbelief for the full 126 minutes it runs.
This is not Excalibur, nor is it Camelot. This is “Guy Ritchie’s reimagining of the events leading up to Arthur becoming King. Nowhere will you find Lancelot or Guinevere or any of the stories with which most people are familiar. But wait: most of the stories we know about Arthur have little resemblance to the origins of the tale in Welsh mythology. What was added by authors along the way is no more valid than this tale of Arthur’s evil uncle, Vortigern, usurper of Uther Pendragon’s throne through treachery and sorcery, and Arthur’s reluctant efforts to claim what is rightfully his.
Jude Law is marvelously wicked as Vortigern, whose lust for power has no bounds, nor does his desire to propitiate the Syren (Hermione Corfield) and her brood in exchange for the dark magic which feeds this lust. Charlie Hunnam is not what I expected Arthur to be, but then, this is a very different Arthur, one who grew up in a brothel and had no idea, except in rare flashbacks, what he had been before. As Vortigern has his source of magic, so does Arthur: The Mage (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey) who is a hard taskmistress, forcing him to confront his visions and learn to master the sword he has drawn from the stone.
Arthur’s other companions in this journey of self-discovery, Sir Bedivere (Djimon Hounsou), George (Tom Wu), Back Lack (Neil Maskell), Jack’s Eye (Michael McElhatton) and Goosefat Bill (Aidan Gillan) are the most motley of crews. Each possesses a special skill which helps to keep Arthur alive and free, from impossible feats of archery to martial arts expertise, to just being the slipperiest conman in the country. Often it is the Mage’s understanding of Nature and communication with animals which saves the day, yet it is Arthur upon whom destiny calls to wield the great and magical sword Excalibur, to save England from the evils brought upon it by his uncle, and to face his own history and future.
The visuals are dark and detailed, pure Ritchie, with an occasional homage to Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and Robin of Sherwood. The pacing and camera work are reminiscent of his previous excursions into the world of Sherlock Holmes, and even more effective in this film. Indeed, expecting this Arthurian saga to resemble the Arthurs of the past is like expecting Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes films to resemble the Basil Rathbone versions, but then those old black and white films never had access to the range of special effects available which we in this modern 3-D film-making and film-going world have, and these days often take for granted.
All on all, it is a thoroughly enjoyable and different take on the legend we all thought we knew so well.
[Alas, this film was the summer’s first flop. Given the above, why do you think that happened? Comment below. – Ed.]