King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

REVIEW BY REBECCA WYNNE-WALSH

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword  is a film directed by Guy Ritchie, starring Charlie Hunnam, Jude Law, Djimon Hounsou, Aidan Gillen and Eric Bana. I list these names to make clear the amount of talented people involved in this film, this list unfortunately serves only to make this blockbuster even more disappointing. Everyone involved in this film deserved a better end product. The ingredients for a great film were all there, the tone could have been the perfect combination of Layer Cake and Ritchie’s own Sherlock Holmes. Somehow, somewhere down the line of production, something went wrong.

While this review may now be sounding a little vitriolic it is important to note that there are a lot of good elements in King Arthur, had they been put together better the result would have been wonderful. Let’s start with the cast, full of well respected, veteran actors. Eric Bana plays his role of Arthur’s noble father, tragically lost too soon at the hands of his evil brother. He essentially plays a Camelot version of Mufasa, and he does it well. The evil brother in question is brought to life by Jude Law, who seems determined to continue his winning streak of going markedly against type.  Dastardly villainy suits him well, one interrogation/torture scene in particular cements Law’s ability to embody the evil.

Fans of the TV show Queer as Folk, will get plenty of amusement from seeing Aidan Gillen and Charlie Hunnam reunited, having played on-off lovers on the show. Unfortunately for Hunnam as he embarks on building a career post-Sons of Anarchy, Ritchie has presented him with a role only minutely different from his role on the show. Hunnam is barely stretching his acting muscles here, burdened with the role of the hero and carrying the weight of the clunky film on his shoulders, his character suffers. In many ways I feel this film attempted to recreate the near-perfection of Matthew Vaughn’s Kingsman: The Secret Service. We meet the Arthur character as a charming but volatile small time crook, who dreams of more but has too much bravado to admit it, that is, before circumstances and fate step in to force him into hero training.

Ritchie attempts to recreate the London of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrells or Snatch in 15th century Londinium. The charismatic alpha-male Arthur runs a brothel and, along with his motely but loyal crew, he keeps his finger in a lot of criminal pots, as it were. The scenes of playful and quick-fire interaction between Arthur and his future knights of the roundtable are the best in the film. King Arthur succeeds in the small scenes, those centred on character rather than spectacle. It is in its scale that it loses its focus and indeed its appeal.  After the third sweeping, extensive, computer generated shot of Arthur’s England the impressiveness wears thin, after the fourth it is simply uninteresting and after the fifth it is annoying and time-consuming.  The scale of the film stands in the way of the plot moving forward.

One would assume that, if nothing else, the fight scenes in this film would be brilliantly executed, but you know what they say about people who assume. When Arthur fights his more fantastical foes, the computer generated images are jarring to the point of displacing any suspension of disbelief. When Arthur fights human foes, superfluous special effects are added apparently to enhance the action, instead they render the visuals of the fight scenes to the standard of a dated video game.

The soundtrack is one aspect of the film that was superb and should have been foregrounded even more. With a blend of rock and folk genres, the sequences when the songs are given centre stage are among the finest in the film.

Ultimately the tone of King Arthur got caught somewhere between gritty and comedic, hopping between the two creates an unsettling effect. King Arthur would have benefitted from either embracing the camp or embracing the violence, in trying to hold on to both it loses both its heart and its appeal.