After reinventing Sherlock Holmes and The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Guy Ritchie is turning his inimitable attentions to the legend of King Arthur. It’s a classic origin story, with Arthur (Charlie Hunnam) growing up in a brothel in Londinium after his uncle Vortigern (Jude Law) usurps the throne from his father (Eric Bana). A chance encounter with the sword of the title sets an unwilling Arthur on the path to claiming his birthright.
Only Ritchie could stuff a King Arthur film with Londinium geezers, a pounding soundtrack, and twisting montages. Arthur is a wide-boy, wheeling and dealing his way through life, and the film is certainly original in its approach to Arthurian legend, with many characters not making the cut (Merlin, Lancelot and Guinevere are among the big names who are more or less missing).
Ritchie’s style feels refreshing at times – Arthur’s visit to a magical island, infested with all manner of giant bats and rodents (Of Unusual Size), would have taken 30 minutes in any other film, but Ritchie breezes through it in a funny montage.
But Ritchie’s frenetic style becomes wearing by the half way point, and the focus on fun and a breakneck pace comes at the expense of character development.
We never really care about Arthur, and his Round-Table-to-be are underdeveloped, with only the ever-wonderful Neil Maskell succeeding in making the audience invest in his character. Jude Law has enormous fun as an intense and grieving villain, but, sadly, isn’t given quite enough to do.
The film becomes increasingly obsessed with spectacle, and while some of it works well (sword fights play out like a bad trip), by the end all it does is distance the audience. The film even commits the mortal sin of substituting a key character for CGI at a key emotional moment.
King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword is intended to be a franchise-starter, but on the basis of this film, the chances of a follow-up seem fairly unlikely. It looks good, it has some very good sequences, but as a whole it’s entirely uninvolving.