REVIEW: King Arthur: Legend of the Sword
There just may have been a real King Arthur in the sixth century of what is today England. Or, he may have been a legend the fractured country needed to help give it a cultural identity. Either way, that legendary figure of story and song would be horrified to see what Guy Ritchie has done in his name.
King Arthur: Legend of the Sword was a troubled production, heavily promoted, and lengthily delayed until it opened to withering reviews and poor box office. Now available on home video from Warner Home Entertainment, it is a troubling view of Arthur.
Real or not, he was reinterpreted for the needs of the country (and later portions of Europe) across the centuries with characters coming and going, victories of varying degrees, and epic romances until there was just Arthur and Guinevere. As we have come to know the legend, he was a moral character, born a bastard, and the right man in the right place at the right time when England needed a savior. And when he died, he was carried off to Avalon to return when the country needed him once more.
Instead, writer/director Ritchie along with screenwriters Joby Harold and Lionel Wigram (from a story by David Dobkin and Harold), little is recognizable. The names are familiar but the trappings and arrangement of events bears no resemblance to any previous retelling of the legend. Instead of a story of love, betrayal, and uniting England, this is reduced to a good versus evil story.
King Uther (Eric Bana) is betrayed by his corrupt brother Vortigern (Jude Law), who usurps the throne, aware that the true heir, young Arthur, has escaped on a boat. Like Moses, he is found and raised by others and he grows to become a member of the Londinium lower class, uninterested in power or the throne. But Vortigern has insisted all men of age try to lift Excalibur from the stone and Arthur (Charlie Hannum) finds himself next in line. However, his two-fisted grip unleashes both power and unbearable nightmares, adding a psychological twist to the tale.
He is rescued from certain death by a band led by Sir Bedivere (Djimon Hounsou) and an outlaw mage (Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey). Bit by bit, Arthur is forced, pushed, and told he must confront his destiny, accept the sword and the power or Vortigern will destroy the world.
Vortigern does despicable things to people he loves but since they are merely window dressing we have no real emotional connection the heinous acts. None of the characters, really, come to life as none are explored in any depth, including Arthur himself who half the time appears to be a spectator rather than participant.
After that there’s plenty of energy hurled about, sword play, betrayal, and plenty of somber music. There’s just no joy amidst the cacophony or respect for the source material. The Arthur Ritchie wants us to accept is a reluctant hero, unwilling to do what he must until there is no choice left. Most of the trappings, from Merlin to Morgan le Fay, all absent as this was intended as the first in a cycle of films, which will now never be made given the utter failure of this one.
Ritchie’s signature touch is largely absent here, save for two exposition scenes that show more energy than the rest of the film. What should have been glorious and grand was reduced to look weak and ill-conceived.
The film has been released in the usual variety of formats and the high definition transfer at 1080p, AVC-encoded Blu-ray is perfectly acceptable if not spectacular. Sort of like the film itself. The Dolby Atmos track is equally capable.
The handful of special features careful avoids the legend and the massive changes made for this misfire of a fil. You have Arthur with Swagger (9:41); Sword from the Stone (18:49); Parry and Bleed (5:44); Building on the Past (14:00); Inside the Cut: The Action of King Arthur (6:08); Camelot in 93 Days (10:23); Legend of Excalibur (6:05); and, Scenic Scotland (5:33). These are perfunctory and not especially revelatory.