King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (2017)

I’ve gotten so used to flying Air Asia in recent years that I’d almost forgotten that one can actually watch films during flights. I picked this to watch during a recent flight but was not quite able to finish it plus of course watching this on such a small screen isn’t the best experience. Still I’d watched until the end of the climactic fight and it’s hardly a great film to begin with, so I think I have enough to write something about it.

In this reimagining of the familiar legend, Uther Pendragon is king of Britain who triumphs over a revolt led by the warlock Mordred. In the wake of the victory however his brother Vortigern betrays him, killing everyone and assuming the throne himself. Uther’s son Arthur is sent away and found and raised by prostitutes in Londinium. His upbringing on the streets makes him tough and canny, and he grows up into the leader of a gang. Eventually destiny catches up with him when he is sent with a batch of many other youths to test if they are able to draw his father’s sword Excalibur from the stone where it has been trapped. His identity revealed to all of Britain, he is nearly executed by Vortigern when loyalist forces led by a general serving under his father and a mage identifying herself as an acolyte of Merlin rescue him. Despite his misgivings, he has to learn to control the awesome power of the sword and lead the resistance against the reign of his evil uncle.

This synopsis makes King Arthur sound like a generically awful fantasy film and indeed its awful Rotten Tomatoes rating is well deserved. The plot is as bland as they come, with the only saving grace being that they avoided tacking on a forced romantic subplot. Their budget for special effects looks substantial but the fantastical elements seem incoherent with only the most superficial borrowings from the well known myth. It may be visually impressive to watch Mordred field gigantic elephants against Uther’s knights but it doesn’t make any sense at all how that is in any way a fight. I did like that Excalibur’s power turns out to be something like giving the wielder superspeed and insane attacking power, giving it a very Japanese anime-like feeling, but that’s about it. This is just a horrible film all around.

At the same time, awful as this film is, I find myself being amused at how it is recognizably still a Guy Ritchie film. The film’s best scenes are when Arthur is with his crew in Londinium and it feels just like Ritchie’s earlier crime comedies with the slang and the character dynamics. Rather than a heroic king leading a rebellion against a tyrant, this version of Arthur feels more like a hoodlum defending his local turf. I also think it’s hilarious how the director quickly glosses over ‘boring’ bits like training scenes through extensive usages of montages. Basically at no point is this Arthur ever allowed to be a weakling and he kicks ass from the get go.

Of course these interesting flourishes in no way redeems this film. I watched the first Sherlock Holmes film a while back and was not too impressed by it and I’m disappointed that this is the direction that Ritchie has taken his career. I’m doubly disappointed that a talented actor like Jude Law felt it necessary to appear in crap like this and in a role as a stereotypical villain to boot. I guess everyone has bills to pay but I am rather glad that this film seems to have been a bust at the box office.

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