The “Once and Future King” is here, well, the “Once” part at least. King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is a fantasy-action film starring Charlie Dunham (Sons of Anarchy, Pacific Rim) in the titular role and Jude Law (Sherlock Holmes film series, The Young Pope) as King Vortigern, Arthur’s uncle and murderer of his own brother to claim the throne for himself. Undoubtedly, this film is meant to be a popcorn movie leading up to a season of summer blockbusters, but the latest rendition of the tales of Camelot seem to feel more like a high-production-valued video game than an actual film.
Directed by Guy Ritchie, of Sherlock Holmes starring Robert Downey Jr. Madonna’s ex-husband fame, this film details Arthur’s rise to kingship from the assassination of his father, King Uther (Eric Bana; Hulk, Star Trek) to the discovery of his enchanted lineage when he pulls the legendary sword, Excalibur, from the stone. While one should note that Arthurian stories have always contained magical elements and demonic adversities, the excessively-fantastical vibe coupled with overused CGI elements in Ritchie’s reimagined Camelot pushes the limit for it to even be considered hyper-realistic.
Using fast cuts and a “big battle” opening to skim through the character development for Arthur, the first quarter of the film feels like a typical video game cutscene you would watch before playing. While the director does try to set the film in a darker tone than recent fantasy films, one cannot help but notice a pastiche blend of video game tropes and elements within Ritchie’s cinematic vision. An Assassin’s Creed-like falcon as the eyes in the sky, a snake charmer with a Prince of Persia vibe, a Dark Souls-like demon with a burning skull for a face and time-manipulating action sequences of Shadow of Mordor proportions, King Arthur feels more like a mood board full of medieval-themed video games than an actual film about the rise of Arthur.
Charlie Dunham leads the relatively-minor cast, other than Jude Law and Eric Bana in King Arthur. Even though Dunham plays the titular character to mediocre success, his TV-based fame ultimately falls short against the scene-stealing Law of A-list Hollywood fame, whose villainous portrayal of a jealous king remains as the saviour for the overall-lacklustre attempt at revitalising the Arthurian legend. While the most prominent female cast in the film, Astrid Bergès-Frisbey’s portrayal of The Mage – a nameless replacement for Merlin – is hindered by poor character development and her poor diction of English, a language she only learnt for her role in 2011’s Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.
To enjoy King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, one must accept the fact that this is not going to be the best medieval film out there, or even the best rendition of Arthurian tales. Ultimately, this film is just going to be a mindless popcorn film full of overwhelming CGI and over-the-top mysticism (even by fantasy film standards) to kick off a summer of likeminded films. Transformers: The Last Knight, anyone?