King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (Legend of the Sword from here on out) is a bad movie. Guy Ritchie, known for his slick crime thrillers, probably wasn’t the right choice to direct this. In fact, he makes a lot of really bad choices here. Legend of the Sword is all over the map; half the time, it’s trying to be the kind of cool heist movie that Ritchie excels at, half the time it’s trying to be an epic action movie. Ritchie has no handle on the action portions of the film, which end up looking like something out of a video game. And the heist portions feel at odds with the basic premise of the film. Legend of the Sword is a mess.
Let’s start with the basics. As I mentioned, much of the high-fantasy stuff from this film looks really bad. The film is here to set-up a sequel, and suffers from many of the problems suffered by other films that exist solely to create an expanded universe. Too many allusions to unseen characters, too many pieces of iconography saved in favor of B-list knockoffs, and not enough careful storytelling.
The film has a weird, labyrinthian backstory, one not entirely recognizable to lovers of Arthurian legend, but also isn’t easy to understand for a newcomer either. There’s a whole slough of newly invented characters who mostly seem interchangeable. The film doesn’t take the Arthurian legend all that seriously, which would be excusable as if this film were fun, like Ritchie’s The Man From U.N.C.L.E. adaptation; unfortunately, this film mostly operates in a space of dourness, not a space of fun.
Jude Law here is doing some real scenery chewing, and it’s great. He’s an actor who really has a feel for what the appropriate tone is for this film. Hunnam is also good here, once again affirming my theory that the main obstacle stopping Hunnam from becoming a crossover star is that he works best playing English. On the other hand, it’s really unclear what Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey is doing here, and this is not the best use of Aiden Gillen either, particularly since casting him in a film like this is only going to make the Game of Thrones comparisons more obvious and jarring.
This film generally also struggles with its women, who are predominantly props and objects to be used or slaughtered, not actual people. Guy Ritchie has always been on the bro-side of the spectrum as directors go, but the casual way that violence is inflicted upon women here is somewhat troubling even by Ritchie’s standards.
Many otherwise competent directors struggle with this kind of high fantasy; Wolfgang Peterson’s Troy, Ridley Scott’s Exodus: Gods and Kings, Alex Proyas’ Gods of Egypt – I could go on. It’s no surprise to me to see Guy Ritchie join their company; his style always felt ill-suited to this genre. That the film is this spectacularly bad? Well, that’s another thing.