Guy Ritchie famously reinvented Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes with Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law, while also updating The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (with Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer). But I fear that he has gone too far in the tearing down of the Arthurian legend, rebuilding it in his own Rocknrolla image. Instead of just tweaking the style of King Arthur, Ritchie and his cowriters, Joby Harold (with upcoming writing credits on Robin Hood and The Flash) and Lionel Wigram tossed major elements of the existing King Arthur stories to make Arthur (Charlie Hunnam) more of a thug and less of a king.
Is the end result any better, or somehow more insightful?
Honestly, the film is spectacular to look at, in blue and gray hues that speak to the grittiness of the story – of one disgraced prince’s rags-to-riches story. [Ritchie even has young Arthur grow up with a brothel for a manger and prostitutes in place of his Virgin Mary; the “messiah” clauses are erased from the get-go.] But like Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (which I’ll admit it, I loved), we have some goofy casting, funktified storytelling that made me wonder what was going on.
Mordred is Uther’s enemy, not Arthur’s illegitimate heir, and proves problematically only momentarily. It’s Vortigern (Jude Law) who proves to upend Uther’s kingdom and threaten the life of Arthur, pursuing a prophesied ‘true king’ who will end Vortigern’s evil reign. Vortigern’s power is derived from the evil machinations of a serpent/witch/Ursula-looking thing in the moat that is like the evil, crazy witch (Geraldine McEwan’s Mortianna). It makes no sense but it’s splashed out there in graphic novel-like frames that show Ritchie’s ability to entertain and tell stories.
We know this is Ritchie from the way punches are thrown, landed or otherwise, and the way characters tell stories, like when Hunnam’s Arthur explains a run-in with a Viking to Game of Throne’s Michael McElhatton (one of several GoT folks to make the cast). [Not to be outdone, England and Man U/Real Madrid/PSG striker David Beckham has a role.] But all of these looks don’t change the fact that – again, like RH:PoT, there are funky castings, like Djimon Hounsou and Tom Wu in advisory positions to Arthur (holy shades of Morgan Freeman!)
Yes, I did find Legend of the Sword entertaining. But I’m a guy who’d read L’Morte D’Arthur three times before graduating high school and would say that Disney’s The Sword in the Stone is in my top ten animated films of all time. There’s something timeless and classic about the story, that has survived First Knight and King Arthur (Clive Owen), but ends up looking like Dragonheart IV here. It’s just too bad.
In many ways, the audience would be most appreciative of the film if they went in expecting that Ritchie was putting his own spin on Sons of Anarchy by tossing it back a few thousand years and throwing in some magic. To label this Arthurian is more miss than hit, and frankly, the king with a heart of gold and a poor impulse control deserved better.
But then again, so did Guinevere.
Special features on Warner Bros.’ Blu-ray/DVD/Digital HD combo pack include a wealth of additional material, highlighted by the way Guy Ritchie built merry old London (Londinium) in his stylized image in “Building on the Past” and put his spin on Arthur in “Sword from the Stone,” while fans can see the way Hunnam prepped to be Arthur in “Arthur with Swagger” and “Parry and Bleed.”