There’s a reason King Arthur: Legend of the Sword spent so long simmering in pre-production.
During the formative stages of development on Guy Ritchie’s bold, mystical reimagining of the classic fable, Warner Bros. brass cobbled together a blueprint for a shared medieval universe featuring some of the most iconic characters from the Middle Ages (see: Lancelot and Merlin), which inevitably placed the burden of expectation on Legend of the Sword‘s broad, burly shoulders. It may not contain the Easter eggs and cute references of, say, a Marvel tentpole, but King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is still considered to be the franchise-starter – the first domino – of Warner’s interconnected universe, but at least according to the early critical consensus, Guy Ritchie’s lavish tentpole is off to a rocky start.
Pegged for launch on May 12th, we’ve compiled a collection of samples from those reviews currently littering the interwebs, beginning with our own.
Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur is a tonal jumble that’s certainly no heir to the throne, as it’s never rock-steady in approach or execution
The action works to the extent that it does at all thanks to the occasional grandeur of the landscapes, the richly detailed sets, and Daniel Pemberton’s skirling score, which give the combat a teeth-baring energy that’s otherwise unearned. Call it Lochs, Stocks and Too-Shaky Battles, and chalk it up to experience.
So, in theory, you wouldn’t bet against Ritchie’s similarly controversial take on Arthurian legend (an urban reimagining-cum-origin story designed to birth a six-film connected cinematic universe) to pull off a similar trick. It doesn’t take too long for those hopes to wither or, rather — given the film’s overblown opening battle scene — be trampled by a 300-foot CGI elephant. Although it flickers to life at times, King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword devolves into a jumbled affair, weighed down by confusing supernatural elements and a lazy reliance on visual effects.
It never seems like Guy Ritchie knows what movie he wants to make. The raging, hell-forged actioner? The cheeky rags-to-riches jester piece? Daniel Pemberton’s renaissance-rock score sets an adventurous mood (my favorite component), but King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword is a drawn-out, oddly composed knight’s tale that demands no place in history. You might recognize such icons as the Lady in the Water, but Ritchie takes unnecessary steps to ensure involvement (Arthur running furiously through the woods like a schoolboy). Excitement is fleeting, dialogue rambles and Jude Law’s tyrant-approved throne slouch pretty much sums the film’s overall attitude – a hearty “meh,” worthy of no diamond-studded crown. Especially where female character arcs are concerned.
It’s reasonably good fun and there’s a great “assassination” scene in which the director himself puts in a cameo as a frowning householder. The film rattles along exhilaratingly, if sometimes intermittently, like a fairground rollercoaster that occasionally stops and makes you get out and walk for a few minutes before letting you back on.
This ‘King Arthur’ has a catchy momentum and it’s visually sparky. If no one opened their mouth, Ritchie’s loud mash-up of history, myth, fantasy, spooky spirits and grim creatures might offer a more consistent charm. Yet mouths do open and awful dialogue tends to tumble out. Put your fingers in your ears when the talking starts, and you might enjoy the view.
From one moment to the next, it’s possible to on some level enjoy the shaking up of tired conventions in a swordplay fantasy such as this and then to be dismayed by the lowbrow vulgarity of what’s ended up onscreen. The film gives with one hand and takes away with the other, which can be frustrating in what’s meant to be entertainment.
There’s a lot to love about “King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword,” and with some more finesse and attention it could have been a genuinely great romp. Instead, it’s a mindless, often thrilling, occasionally dull extravaganza that rings as hollow as it does only because Ritchie and his team wanted to keep the machine alive for a few more movies. It’s a decision that isn’t exactly gallant.
But Hunnam’s competing with so much ridiculous window-dressing here. It’s as if Ritchie, who began his career with the rowdy follow-that-shotgun caper “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels,” has once again tried to build an entire movie around the whereabouts of a rare weapon, when the legend of the sword isn’t nearly as interesting as that of the man who wields it.
Twice delayed, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword gallops into theaters on May 12th. Those franchise plans will no doubt hinge on the film’s box office total, and at least based on these mixed reviews, Guy Ritchie’s fantastical epic is staring down the face of an uphill struggle.