King Arthur: Legend of the Sword Review

Updated on July 9, 2018
satomko profile image

Seth Tomko is a writer, college-level educator, and adventurer.

Promotional image from Warner Bros. for King Arthur: Legend of the Sword.
Promotional image from Warner Bros. for King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. | Source

After securing peace against overly ambitious mages, Uther Pendragon (Eric Bana) is betrayed and murdered by his brother, Vortigern (Jude Law). Infant Arthur escapes in a boat and washes ashore in Londinum, where he’s taken in by prostitutes and grows up to be a poor scoundrel with a heart of gold who looks exactly like Charlie Hunnam. When Uther’s magical sword, Excalibur, is revealed, everyone tries to pull the sword from the stone to prove he is the true king. Shocking himself as much as everyone else, Arthur pulls the sword. Before he can be executed by Vortigern, he’s rescued by a Mage (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey) and the resistance fighters still loyal to Uther’s vision of a united and peaceful kingdom. Arthur attempts a vision quest to unlock the full potential of Excalibur and himself, and he begrudgingly helps the resistance as they sabotage Vortigern and attempt to assassinate him on a visit to Londinium. When hostages are threatened if Arthur does not surrender, he and the Mage devise a way to get him into Camelot to free the captives, defeat the usurper’s oppressive army and destroy the arcane tower that increases Vortigern’s power.

Pretender to the Throne

The above summary makes the movie seem more coherent and fluid than it really is. One element in the film’s favor is how it doesn’t attempt to be a “historically accurate” retelling of Arthur. There is magic and monsters and if nothing else a sense of fantastical fun that holds up parts of the movie even if it does seem weightless. Djimon Hounsou as Sir Bedivere is an inspired choice, though not much comes from it.

Unfortunately, along with eschewing “historical” Arthur, Guy Ritchie didn’t really use “legendary” Arthur either. Aside from some places and character names, the movie bears only a passing resemblance to anything from Arthurian legend. As a primal figure of English myth, one would think part of the rationale behind using King Arthur would be to comment on his stature and that of the traditional of Arthurian tales, whether it be in the form of the flawed idealism of Camelot—Excalibur—or satire—Monty Python's the Holy Grail. Ritchie’s only goal, however, seems to be making cool looking fast edits and montages. Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski makes better use of Arthurian legend in his Witcher series, especially The Lady of the Lake. Many of the traditional markers are absent; The Holy Grail, Guinevere, Mystical Isle of Avalon, and Lancelot are all MIA. Merlin, the audience is told, is in hiding, and that’s the end of that. The potential for use of the elements or even their subversion is squandered.

The character of Arthur is also an opportunity missed. There is an intriguing proposition in having Arthur starts as an impoverished petty criminal, but aside from informing a few of his choices, not much is done to develop this, nor do we see much of the kind of leader and king into which this background would shape him. Arthur is a combination of Moses, pimp, iconoclast, rebel, and neighborhood crime boss akin to Vito Corleone in The Godfather: Part 2. The Mage sends him on a vision quest to the dark lands to allegedly break him down and build him into a better person, but there’s no evidence he’s lordlier at the end of it than when he started. This problem is emblematic of so many of the movie’s problems: it tries to do far too much, ending in doing nothing much at all.

This is a poster for King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. The poster art copyright is believed to belong to the distributor of the film, Warner Bros. Pictures, the publisher or the graphic artist.
This is a poster for King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. The poster art copyright is believed to belong to the distributor of the film, Warner Bros. Pictures, the publisher or the graphic artist. | Source

Forged in Magic and Quick-Cuts

King Arthur is tonally disjointed, which makes it a match for its frantic visual style, rapid dialogue, and hyperventilating score. It moves so fast, it seems as though it’s trying to cover three films worth of material by condensing them into montages. The whole story of Uther Pendragon and criminally underused Eric Bana takes about 10 minutes, allowing for the slow motion sequences. Arthur’s boyhood and formative years in a Londinium brothel are dispensed with in a rapid-fire montage. Dark lands vision quest: montage. The longest sequence is likely the failed assassination in Londinium and subsequent escape through the side streets.

There’s plenty of magic in the movie, but it isn’t always impressive, which is a shame since technology and film techniques now allow for high fantasy elements to be no less filmable than anything else. Vortigern suffers from this especially, as all his magical powers amount to are waving some orbs of fire around and turning into something from a Frank Frazetta painting. The latter isn’t even his power, but borrowed at a steep price from unfathomable octopus-witches, presumably before they relocate to Innsmouth.

The movie is in part a mess picks and abandons plenty of visually or thematically engaging ideas: octopus-witches who live in a watery cave under Camelot, the price of asking for magical help from said octopus-witches, Mages as a distinct people, ancient London as a polyglot and multiethnic urban landscape, the contrasting fire and frost imagery for sorcery and Excalibur. Unfortunately, none of this ever amount to coherent themes or even subtext. The audience is left with a problem of having a movie that is a cacophony of ideas and images competing with one another rather than being in service to a particular story.

Heavy Breathing

The musical score is probably the most unique element of the movie. It is both minimalistic and epic, blending folk song, unusual instrumentation, and heavy breathing. In many sequences, the score gives the movie weight and scope that it couldn’t achieve on its own. It is difficult to say if the score actually fits with the movie, but it is capable of holding the attention of the audience, even when they might not be able to understand what they’re seeing on the screen.

Long Live the King

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is a mess, but an interesting one. Viewers looking for a good movie will likely not find one, and viewers interested in Arthurian legend likely won't be satisfied either. Viewers looking for something they haven’t seen before, however, will discover something here.

Questions & Answers

    © 2017 Seth Tomko

    Comments

      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment

      • satomko profile imageAUTHOR

        Seth Tomko 

        17 months ago from Macon, GA

        Thank you, Louise Powles, for reading and commenting. I'm glad my review was enjoyable to you.

      • Coffeequeeen profile image

        Louise Powles 

        17 months ago from Norfolk, England

        Mm, not sure this is my kind of film. I enjoyed reading your review on the film though. =)

      working

      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, reelrundown.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://reelrundown.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

      Show Details
      Necessary
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Features
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Marketing
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Statistics
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)