King Arthur: Legend of the Sword Review

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword proves that Guy Ritchie can make a great medieval movie. Not this movie of course. No. King Arthur is most often a heartless CGI-fest. But when Ritchie’s unique style bursts through the clutter, this movie is genuinely wonderful.

King Arthur is easy to break down. Is the scene trying to be an epic fantasy CGI extravaganza? Then that scene is probably tough to sit through. But if the scene shows characters talking and doing character things with other characters, chances are that the scene is pretty good.

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is waaay too much of the former.

The movie starts with a bang. Literally. The first shot is some out of context tower producing a big energy ball. What’s the energy ball? I don’t know. Where’s this tower? I don’t know. What importance does this tower hold? Maybe the next shot will clear things up… Oh. Never mind. The next shot is an uncomfortably long blackout that’ll make you wonder if the projector broke.

Finally some hard to read text appears. What does the text say? I’m not sure. It was kind of hard to read. Something about a wizard (not named Merlin) doing something bad. Luckily it seems that this preamble had zero effect on the movie and could have been completely removed.

We’re not off to a great start… then the movies starts with a bang, again.

We are thrown into a battle from Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. It’s fine. We meet our (surprisingly excellent) villain played by Jude Law. We get to witness the seriously over-powered strength of Excalibur. We also get to meet the aforementioned wizard from the preamble who’s head is then promptly cut off. So much for that. At least this segment feels like a proper opening. It’s not too dissimilar from the opening of Man of Steel; we learn some backstory, meet the villain and the baby protagonist is sent into the wild unknown.

But then King Arthur: Legend of the Sword starts with a bang, again, again. And this time we know it’s starting for real. The opening credits give it away.

The opening credits fill in the gaps from childhood to adulthood through a raucous montage. This is also when the movie remembers that it’s directed by Guy Ritchie. And wouldn’t you know it, this part of the movie really good! The editing is energetic. The quick bursting scenes are meaningful. The soundtrack is awesome. The cinematography is exciting.

Without wasting a moment, Arthur becomes a full character in about a minute. This montage is the first moment that gave me hope for the movie. I thought, “The openings were a but rough, but if King Arthur can maintain this vibe and energy, this just might be good.”

The movie doesn’t maintain the vibe or energy.

King Arthur is great when Guy Ritchie is focused on making a Guy Ritchie movie. A lower budget film that’s focused on memorable characters and sharp, witty dialogue. King Arthur has all of those things but embarrassingly stumbles as it also aims to be a Peter Jackson movie.

Take away all of the big budget battles and special effects, what remains is solid. The characters in King Arthur are real. The actors portraying them are good. The story is engaging. The relationships feel authentic. But none of this foundation is given time to exist as the movie keeps whipping back into CGI spectacle mode.

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Ritchie has a distinct wheel house: London crime comedies. I respect that he wants to branch into other territories, his Sherlock Holmes movies were a nice first step. But even at the heart of those film lies a London crime comedy. With King Arthur he’s branching into the world of medieval fantasy. A big step, and perhaps it would have worked had the production been smaller in scale. It appears as if Warner Bros poured way too much money into the project hoping for a fantasy epic and things spiraled out of control.

It’s no coincidence that the worst moments are a CGI battle and the best moments are a London Londinium crime comedy. King Arthur: Legend of the Sword actually made me want to see a Guy Ritchie take on Robin Hood, with on caveat: the movie is given a shoestring budget.

Ritchie’s next project is another big budget spectacle: Disney’s Aladdin. I’m not feeling too optimistic about that project. But at least the London Agrabah crime comedy aspect will be really good.