Review of King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

This isn't your father's King Arthur.

Charlie Hunnam as King Arthur.
Charlie Hunnam as King Arthur. (photo: Source: Warner Bros.)

The reviews for the latest cinematic installment of King Arthur, the West's first superhero, have all been devastatingly bad.

Despite that, I enjoyed the film.

Here's the synopsis: Uther Pendragon, Arthur’s father (Eric Bana) is king of England but is betrayed and usurped by his evil brother Vortigern (Jude Law). Arthur grows up to be Charlie Hunnam―a hot-headed but warm-hearted, scrappy street fighter. As Vortigern can't remove Excalibur from its resting stone―as he isn't the rightful heir to the throne―and so hunts down Arthur, ostensibly to kill him in a public spectacle to legitimize his tyrannical rule over the good people of England.

I've always been a fan of Guy Ritchie, so I'm happy to give him a break on this one. Hopefully the next, reportedly, five films in this franchise will be better steeped in Christian spirituality as were the original Arthurian legends because, without Christ in the mix, the movies don’t stand a chance of succeeding.

I’m a fan of Ritchie's seemingly frenetic, intentionally farcical cinematic style as I don't believe every movie has to be plodding about like a wounded water buffalo to be good. And, frankly, this movie wasn't meant to be Oscar material. Rather, it's a sword-and-jerkins fun night out with the boys and the excuse you're going to give your wife as to why you need to buy a replica sword to hang in the living room and take stage combat lessons.

Charlie Hunnam/King Arthur, an actor with little in terms of acting chops considering he's playing opposite Jude Law, Arthur's nefarious and scheming regicidal uncle, was nonetheless charming and warm as the rough-around-the-edges Once-and-Future-King Arthur. Incidentally, Hunnam pulls off a highly convincing Geordie accent in the movie―no small feat.

Guy Ritchie's King Arthur: Legend of the Sword isn't perfect — not even close — however, a little bit of tweaking and a bit of largess on the viewer's part, and you've got a good time at the cinema.

Ritchie's reimagining the classic Arthurian tales is completely unexpected, and not in a good way. It's a shame that he relegated Christianity to a solitary, mournful, barely audible, church bell at a funeral scene near the end of the film. Le Morte d'Arthur isn't much of a story if it's been stripped of Christian piety and wicked pagan intrigue/deviltry.

The first divergence from the standard canon of the traditional Arthurian tales is that, though Arthur is of royal descent and the true king of England, he is orphaned at the beginning of the film watching his parents being slain by a demon. He's subsequently sent down river to Londinium (post-Roman London) à la Moses or Superman, and is rescued and raised by the women of a brothel. Arthur's power-mad uncle, played expertly by Jude Law, is gunning for him so he can “legitimately” remove Excalibur from an otherwise unyielding rock.

Not exactly canon

Admittedly, I can see where Ritchie got the idea. Sir Thomas Malory fiddles with the idea of King Arthur's supposed illegitimate birth in his reworking of the traditional tales. In seems that prior to Malory's potchke makeover, Merlin magically disguises Uther to look like his enemy Gorlois. In this guise, Uther sleeps with Gorlois' wife Lady Igraine, assuring Arthur's illegitimacy. It was Malory who rewrites the story to make it clear that Uther slept with his enemy's wife after her husband dies in battle against Uther.

Incidentally, this theme of illegitimate conception is repeated in Arthur's siring of Mordred by his own half-sister Morgause in the tales. And it's Mordred who kills Arthur during the Battle of Camlann, thus completing the foreordained, contrapasso-doomed arc.

Either way, whether Ritchie's did his historical and literary due diligence or not, the brothel-reared Arthur was an unnecessary, distracting departure from the story at hand.

Frankly, it wasn’t the gratuitous titillation of Arthur's bordello-upbringing arc that I found disturbing. Rather, it was the violence towards the boy Arthur and several of the prostitutes who were attacked by oafish Vikings, which I found unnecessary and distasteful.

Among the other major departures in the film were Ritchie's was replacing Merlin with an as-of-yet “unnamed women.” And, considering the poor ticket sales, I suspect that the five sequels that Warner Bros. is planning will never materialize, and thus we will never know why Merlin is a woman in this cinematic permutation.

The most gratuitous aspect of this film was the use of African/Caribbean and Asian actors as “alternative” Knights of the Round Table. I've never been one for political correctness but this isn't so much “social justice” as it is pandering pure and simple. I wonder if Ritchie realized the error of selling his soul for the hope of a few more ticket sales when very few people decided to show up at the theatre. Frankly, I doubt any director would be congratulated for hiring an red-haired Irish actor for the lead in the Martin Luther King, Jr. Story. There's no reason to do exactly that with a movie about the King of England.

The irony of the fact that film was a box office bomb should warn future film directors a hard-earned lesson―don't mess with legitimate history or classic literature. 'Twill serve you not.

That aside, it seemed as if the film suffered from too many special effects artists spoiling the cinematic soup. The fight scenes with an Excalibur-wielding Arthur were spectacular and, I believe, the new industry standard. They were perfectly stunning and put into CGI exactly as how we can imagine them from reading the original Arthurian tales of a single frenzied stoke of Excalibur beheading a thousand foes at once. The trio of slithering octopus she-demons with whom Vortigern/Law is in cahoots are mesmerizing. The final fight scene between Arthur and his dastardly uncle in his alter-ego as the morally-corrupt monster en flame, is startling good. I wish it was longer and without the predictable dialogue.

However, the giant snake at the end sent by the “she-Merlin” was a bit cartoonish and disappointing considering the film's magnificent CGI fight scenes.

Other than that, the acting and directing were outstanding as was the storytelling.

All in all, King Arthur: The Legend of the Sword is a good film especially considering the dreck that Hollywood has been dumping on us for the past 20 or 30 years.

And, if nothing else, I’m grateful for the fact that good and evil were clearly demarcated in this story especially in a time when atheists, secularists and other unthinking people hope to cloud the issue by pretending: (1) evil doesn't exist and (2) all religions (read: Catholicism) are evil.

But again, all together, it was a good film.

Every guy will love the movie for no other reason than it has swords and magic in it. But, ladies'll like it too for its character development.