This upcoming historical action flick offers a new, albeit confusing take on the well-known legend of King Arthur. It features all the things you’d expect: sword fights to the death, a tyrannical King and oh of course, gigantic elephants, because what medieval film is complete without them? It stars Charlie Hunnam as Arthur, a petty street criminal. Having been separated from his parents at a young age, he remains completely unaware of his royal heritage until he pulls the legendary sword from stone. He struggles with the news of his ancestry, but along with the sword, he inherits a team of mentors who force him to embrace the sword’s powers and fight for his place on the throne. His actions infuriate the King (Jude Law), an unhinged man who’s drunk with power. Intent on becoming the most powerful being- with the help of a little black magic-, and with a moral compass so far swung that it might as well not exist, he decides killing Arthur is the only way to guarantee his quest is fulfilled; thus beginning the disappointing fight of good versus evil.
This film’s problem is that there’s a multitude of them. It’s too fast, too confusing and quite frankly, too much of a headache. It’s jam-packed with insignificant characters and too many plots points, all of which make the storyline hard to follow. From beginning to end, it’s practically impossible to digest all the information being thrown at you. Director Guy Ritchie does little to help you keep track, instead he actually makes it more challenging. While this was probably never going to be an Oscar winning film, Ritchie reduces the likelihood of this to a snowball’s chance in hell.
He abandons all rational thinking and enters the land of delusion, by trying to convert this film into a heist motion picture. He attempts this with slick, quick camera movements, whip pan transitions and more flashbacks then you can believe. This choice of directing style does not work, not only because this is a King Arthur reboot and not The Italian Job but also because its pace goes a mile a minute. Ritchie dips his toe into the pool of rational thinking every now and again and slows the pace down enough for us to enjoy what’s on screen but this is still interjected by the heist style footage, so it’s hard to keep up. He treats the film like a pet project, trying to cram in as many different camera techniques as possible, forgetting that the film isn’t being made solely for his personal pleasure. The plot is difficult enough to follow without his unnecessary camera tricks; in fact they’re almost enough to give you motion sickness.
Like many aspects of this film, the flashbacks just add to the confusion. You spend minutes wondering why the story is so patchy, before it goes back in time and the blanks are filled in for you. If Ritchie was attempting to confuse his audience, he’s succeeded by a mile. Ritchie, who co-wrote the script, would have benefited from a quick tap on the shoulder to remind him that sometimes, simplicity is the key. But it’s not all bad. The film is pleasantly funny, so much so, that it could have been labelled a comedy. It’s not side splittingly hilarious but it’s definitely enough to keep you entertained.
The main plot keeps getting side-tracked, as we’re introduced to so many characters. Some of them stand out for the wrong reasons, particularly The Mage- ‘a magician’ to you and me. She’s played by Astrid Bergès-Frisbey and although her character plays an integral part in Arthur’s journey, she still feels like a mismatched puzzle piece in the King Arthur jigsaw. She’s certainly not the film’s downfall, but equally she’s not its greatest asset. The only characters really worth noting are Charlie Hunnam, Jude Law and Geoff Bell. Law, who plays the corrupt King Vortigern, is brilliant to watch but his lack of screen time prevents him from blossoming into the truly horrid, morally loose character you’re desperate to see. Hunnam delivers his comedic lines quite well and as usual, he does this in a bizarre half Cumbrian-half American accent but you get over this quite quickly. Bell plays Mischief John, the King’s cockney advisor. He’s an East End gangster kind of cruel, the kind of guy who will smile at you while he slits your throat. He’s quite charming really. Djimon Honsou and Kingsley Ben-Adir are part of Arthur’s crew. It’s great to see people of colour as cast members despite the film being set in Britain AD. There isn’t always a need for films to be painstakingly historically accurate. Let’s face it, there weren’t giant elephants roaming the streets back in the day.
The final fight scene is reminiscent of a Mortal Kombat X video game and as exciting as it is, it’s just not enough to make up for the rest of the film. It seems Ritchie was trying to re-invent the medieval subgenre but the lesson learned here is that you can’t force a film to be what it shouldn’t. If you’re directing a horror film, you can’t shoot it like a rom-com. A director needs to be versatile and adaptable. One can only hope that Ritchie won’t abandon the basic rules of filmmaking in his next project.