King Arthur begins as a warlock, Mordred lays siege to Camelot. Uther Pendragon (Eric Bana) the king, beheads Mordred which in turn destroys his forces and saves Camelot. However, Uther’s treacherous brother, Vortigern (Jude Law) sacrifices his wife to a sea witch in order to summon a demon knight and orchestrates a coup to over throw King Uther. During the coup, King Uther and his wife are killed by the demon knight, the only survivor is Uther’s son who escapes in a boat and ends up in Londinium. Uther’s son is eventually found and raised by prostitutes who name him, Arthur.
Arthur (Charlie Hunnam) grows up as a skilled fighter and a man of the streets. He confronts a group of Vikings who mistreat one of the prostitutes and later discovers that the Vikings are guests of the king while the brothel is raided Vortigern’s minions who arrest Arthur. During this time, a sword has mysteriously appeared near the castle as part of a prophecy and men of Arthur’s age are being forced to try and pull the sword from the stone it is embedded in. Arthur pulls the sword from the stone and faints from the vast power the sword possesses leaving Arthur to be thrown in the dungeon while his story quickly circulates. Vortigern sends Arthur for execution where he ultimately rescued by Sir Bedivere (Djimon Hounsou) and acolyte of the great Merlin, Mage (Astrid Berges-Frisbey).
After Arthur is rescued he is forced to come to terms with his past and his fears as he faces realisation that he is the only hope of stopping his uncle, Vortigern, becomes clear. With the help of friends new and old, Arthur learns to wield the magical sword during a battle with Vortigern in an attempt to claim his kingdom and become the rightful ruler of Camelot and King of the Britons.
Guy Ritchie’s Iconic Filmography
Right from the start King Arthur is exhilarating. The extended prologue is fit for a prequel to the movie itself and does everything right in terms of jaw-dropping special effects courtesy of pachyderms and a violent back story which is worthy of a dark age depiction. During the conflict, King Uther’s intervention with the magical sword, Excalibur, is a pivotal moment as Richie’s chance to shine and hit the audience with a knockout visual punch with his energetic cinematography enchanting CGI to create a bullet-time action sequence in a time lapse that the magical sword creates. Ritchie’s trademark technical cinematic imagery flourishes through the movie in fight scenes that he used perfectly in Sherlock Holmes, live action street chases and of course defined within the time that Excalibur is ‘activated’. Richie combines medieval-fantasy imagery replicated from Game of Thrones or Lord of the Rings with a modern British crime story rhythm that at times feels off-beat but other times works really well to deliver a dynamic cinematic interpretation of Arthurian myth.
King Arthur is a solid conventional hero’s narrative that is echoed in this big-budget mythical adventure that Richie and writers Dobkin and Harold effortless weave together with a strong story and personality underlined by Ritchie’s intrigue in antiheroes. Richie sacrifices needed character development for his film-making style and over-the-top production that in some cases is unnecessary in the story’s narrative and film goers may have benefited with more depth to the characters.
Arthur and his Knights
This King Arthur film boasts a great cast on paper who try to do the best they can with their screen time working with a jarring script. Charlie Hunnam plays a charismatic Arthur with a balance of charming cheek and medieval ruggedness which is entertaining to watch develop on screen. He takes the physical demand of the movie in his stride while fighting and launching himself around Londinium but remains within his depth as fans would know of him from previous movies like Pacific Rim and Lost City of Z. Hunnam’s chemistry and banter with his fellow cast is likeable onscreen and is characteristic of Ritchie’s geezer-gangster comedies seen in the past.
Merlin is an absent figure in this King Arthur movie and a welcomed magical replacement is The Mage played enigmatically by Astrid Berges-Frisby. She brings a solid yet mysterious aspect to the film as the outcasts magical ally but disappears for large sections of the film. Berges-Frisby’s presence when on screen is proficient and at times takes the attention away from the titular character with her intrigue and reticent character.
The scene-stealer in the film is undoubtedly Jude Law as Vortigern. His nasty, venomous emotional portrayal of the antagonist king is ruthless. There are moments where film-goers will feel the horror creep up their spines courteously of Law’s performance especially in his sacrificial scenes- Law is tyrannically tremendous. Making up the rest of the ensemble cast is the towering figure of Djimon Hounsou as Sir Bedivere, Arthur’s confidant, and Eric Bana, who gets a few short moments to shine in a role similar to Hector in Troy, provides convincing contrast to his brother as the heroic King Uther.
The Climatic Bridge
It is clear that Ritchie wanted to put his unique mark on this new retelling of an ancient medieval story using his trademark camerawork and slow-motion fight scenes which rooted well in the movie. Where this worked in the beginning, middle and parts of the ending it all changed in the climatic fight scene that was jerky, fast-paced and more like a scene in Lord of the Rings where Frodo had the ring on his finger than a magical dimension. It was a crucial point in the film that possibly deserved more attention and detail than other parts of the film that were visually over worked.
Guy Ritchie has created a manic, fast-paced and entertaining re-imagining of the Arthurian Legend that is fun and full of cinematography and banter that Ritchie fans will know and love. King Arthur is a likeable film that is full of energy and witty banter entwined with fantastical lore and a legendary story. For every fun and exciting moment to love there is the underlying flow of a fragmented script that sacrifices functional dialogue for banter and cutaways that are frustrating and unnecessary. For all the fantastic action scenes and scintillating CGI this film lacks the romantic avenue that fundamentally made this story an English legend. However, this film is part of a developing franchise with another possible 4 or 5 films to come which could give Guy Ritchie and his team the chance to bring a King Arthur movie that is as mind-blowing as Ritchie’s stylistic ability with his camerawork.