New release King Arthur: Legend of the Sword has about as much in common with The Once and Future King or any other retelling of the classic legend of the knights of the round table as the book and movie of World War Z do to each other: that is to say, nearly nothing. The latest by director and Sherlock Holmes helmer Guy Ritchie is attempting to bring a new, successful franchise to the screen, by throwing together a beloved story of loyalty and betrayal with a lot of special-effects heavy action, some rapid fire edits, and a bunch of epic battle scenes to create something new. While the end result does garner a fair amount of entertainment, it also leads the audience through a muddled, almost non-existent plot, visually dark sequences that cause eyestrain, and more disappointment at the underutilization of star Charlie Hunnam.
As to the entertainment, it is largely the cast that drags the audience into caring about or connecting with the proceedings. Charlie Hunnam plays Arthur, who as a child was spirited away from danger of a supernatural sort, only to rise above growing up in squalor. The threat comes from throne-usurper and uncle Vortigern, played with broody relish by Jude Law. He’s made a deal for power with a demon? or the devil? or some indeterminate magical baddie who promises his rise to the head of the kingdom. He does have to try to kill anyone who could take that position away from him, which includes Arthur. There’s a sword involved, that adult Arthur surprises himself by pulling out of a stone (one of the few references to the actual King Arthur legend) and that sword appears to give Arthur not only great strength, but also Post Traumatic Stress Disorder-inducing flashbacks. There’s a “mage”, played by French actress Astrid Berges-Frisbey who aids Arthur and his loyal crew in staying alive, and in their seemingly one-and-only purpose to kill Vortigen, but calling flocks of crows and such. She’s like a goth Doctor Doolittle. There are some great co-stars given too little to do, including Djimon Hounsou and Aidan Gillen, the former of Gladiator fame, the latter of whom is known for a far superior representative of the sword and sorcery genre, Game of Thrones.
Hunnam has had a number of leading roles in films meant to be blockbusters or grow into franchises, with greater and lesser success, including Crimson Peak and Pacific Rim. He can be seen in a much better movie at theaters right now called The Lost City of Z. It must be mentioned there is a screenshot worth the price of admission to King Arthur, of Hunnam’s spectacularly muscular back, which should really have given rise to the far better subtitle, “Legend of the Sinew”. I had to be told, having not seen him on Sons of Anarchy, that his shirtless form is seen frequently on that show. In any case, that moment in King Arthur ranks third in the all-time best for muscled back shots, behind and Hugh Jackman in Australia and Christian Bale in Reign of Fire. Gorgeous, yes, but it’s not a great sign about a movie that I spent the next five minutes feeling compassion for the amount of gym work Hunnam had to do for just one scene.
The edits at the beginning of the film, the interaction between characters, some fun dialogue, and the acting work by both Hunnam and Law, as well as, for those interested, the momentary display of back muscles, are reasons to lay down your money for King Arthur. Also, if you’re a fan of the art of Frank Frazetta, it’s clear people in the concept or production design department were heavily influenced by his work.
King Arthur is an entertainment for those of you who are forgiving and passionately love all things both magical and action packed. For the rest of you, if you’re trapped at a mall or near a theater where Guardians, The Fate of the Furious, or The Lost City of Z, all better movies, aren’t playing, you could open yourself to the sword-swinging fun it legitimately offers. Ultimately, though, It’s time for us all to root that Charlie Hunnam’s next release, a remake of 1973’s Papillon, is the most successful of vehicles.