Published May 11, 2017Guy Ritchie delivers another royal knockout with King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, a bombastic and boisterous action epic that breathes new life into the literary legend.
Critics have been tough on Ritchie over the past 15 years, with most arguing the once highly touted director's recent movies never reached the same heights as his first two films (1998's Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, 2000's Snatch). They're not entirely wrong — the Sherlock series never quite packed the same wallop as his watermarks, and his return to roots RocknRolla felt a bit trite, even for fans of populist cinema like his. Still, his sense of cinematic energy, flair for frantic cuts and love of explosive action scenes never waned, and that continues to be true with his latest film.
The film starts with something you've never seen in one of Ritchie's films, let alone any other King Arthur movie, for that matter: Giant elephants smashing everything in their path, and a legion of soldiers encroaching on Camelot. Uther Pendragon (Eric Bana) and his men are able to keep them at bay, but it soon becomes clear something more sinister lurks under his nose: his brother Vortigern (Jude Law), sick with power and willing to murder his family to take over the throne. We see the boy who would be king being ferried away, alone down a river, as the castle is engulfed by evil, and later marooned by the side of a brothel in Londinium (modern day London's former metropolis).
For those fearing this all sounds like another bloated fantasy in the same vein as a Peter Jackson film or Game of Thrones, things start to resemble a regular Ritchie film from here on out, as we're introduced to the adult Arthur (a ripped Charlie Hunnam) through a rapid-fire montage filled with fighting and swindling, as well as the crew who have his back on the street (Kill List's Neil Maskell and Marco Polo's Tom Wu, to name a few). If they weren't wearing such silly clothes, it would seem of a piece with the rest of Ritchie's catalogue, what with its aggressively British dialogue and petty crime side stories.
Legend of the Sword borrows the best bits from both worlds: the blockbuster polish of his later films, and the streetwise savvy of his first two. The movie oscillates in style throughout as Arthur reluctantly pulls the sword from the stone, is forced into exile and decides to avenge his father and save his homeland.
Hardcore fans of the medieval hero (if any still exist) are sure to find faults with this latest cinematic iteration — you won't find any of the usual suspects (Lancelot, Guinevere, etc.) from the original stories, and the action, at times, is even more violent. But Ritchie is always at his best when delivering visceral, vulgar thrill rides, and Legend of the Sword — with its throbbing score from Daniel Pemberton, relentless action fit for a king, montages and battles galore — is just that.