Once again I find myself tasked writing a review on a subject for which I have a pre-existing connection, although in this case the link is two-fold for not only do the legends of King Arthur hold great significance for me having grown up knowing and learning from the stories, I am also quite partial to the stylised and somewhat over-the-top Cockney-fests that constitute so many of Guy Ritchie’s films, to the point where I half expected the film to feature a cameo from a sword-wielding Brick-Top growling obscenities at people. That being the case this film has more of a Sherlock Holmes feel to it, with its rapid edits and rather jarring soundtrack that sounds, in some places, like an entire string section being tased.
The first warning sign that this film would be something of a hack-job was the casting. Not the main casting, mind you. Jude Law is suitably malevolent as the wicked King Vortigern, despite the rather ham-fisted attempts to make him look tortured and sympathetic, and Charlie Hunnam’s reluctant and headstrong Arthur has the potential for a good character if it weren’t for the shockingly awful script he had to work with. No I’m talking about the secondary cast, the assembly of which seemed to be just the casting director shouting “bring me everyone who’s ever been in a TV series with swords in it!” So naturally we’ve got Littlefinger and Roose Bolton from Game Of Thrones and Lady Æthelflæd from The Last Kingdom, not to mention Katie McGrath from BBC’s Merlin. Now that’s just not trying really is it, Reg Poerscout-Edgerton? He’s the man responsible for this rather hilarious attempt at casting. I’m not even going to waste webspace on the David Beckham cameo, other than stating quite fervently that that scene can fuck right off.
What’s clear from the outset is that this film is not for Arthurian traditionalists, with the majority of the names and concepts just thrown into the plot purely for the sake of lip service and to justify calling this a King Arthur story. Merlin and Mordred are mentioned off-hand as these legendary ‘Mages’, the people who provide the central magical element, and the Lady Of The Lake rocks up for all of about thirty seconds to give Arthur a Galadriel-style encouragement vision. And instead of Guinevere, we are treated to a female Mage with no name, and apparently no personality either. She’s depicted as a figure of immense power and importance to the plot, but spends most of the movie glaring sullenly and muttering prophetic nothings in a flat monotonous drone. Her magical abilities are never fully made clear either, especially in the finale when a giant snake appears on her command and starts wrecking Vortigern’s castle, and Arthur just carries on assuming that this is what always happens when there’s an excitement shortage in his life.
For a film with such a pedigree of creativity behind it, Legend Of The Sword has almost no identity of it’s own. It borrows heavily from Lord Of The Rings and 300 with many of it’s set pieces and in many other instances it looks and feels like a video game. Imagine if you hashed the running-jumping element from the Assassin’s Creed series, threw in some costume and visual effects very reminiscent of Dark Souls and added a pinch of swords-and-sorcery borrowed from any Tolkien-esque fantasy you care to mention, and the end result is more or less what you will sit through with this film, only with some pathetic attempts to Lock-Stock some of the names up a bit. I mean one of the blokes is called Jack’s Eye, and I genuinely heard that as Jap’s Eye the first time it was tyre-ironed into the dialogue.
Ultimately, I left this film feeling a bit let down. As entertaining as some of the scenes are, the whole thing feels very rushed and not properly thought through. The more interesting moments, such as Arthur’s journey through ‘The Blacklands’ (the most Dark Soulsy bit in the entire film), I found to be genuinely engaging, but they’re over before you can enjoy them to make room for more CGI sword fights. I mean, would they have been that hard to choreograph?
Go and see this film if you’re uninvested in the Arthur legends and aren’t too fussed about quality, but if you’ve any love for the stories then this film will let you down. Sometimes things bomb at the box office for a very good reason, and sadly every single one is on show in this film. Soundtrack is alright though…