King Arthur: Legend of the Sword,
directed by Guy Ritchie
(Warner Bros., 2017)

Guy Ritchie apparently had a strong desire to make a Lord of the Rings movie, but unfortunately for him, that franchise was already wrapped up.

So Ritchie took some characters from one of the world's greatest fantasy sagas and slapped them into a world that's more Middle-Earth than post-Roman Britain. Sure, we've got Arthur and Uther and Bedivere in the cast list, but this is no Arthurian film.

Now, don't go saying I'm anti-change and don't like new interpretations of old stories. Done well, they can be great. King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is not done well.

Take the first 10 minutes of the movie, which is a confusing mess of mixed timelines, fights without context and major plot developments that don't have enough exposition -- or even identification of the characters -- to have any clue what's going on. Then there's the shuffling of storylines, placing (for instance) Mordred -- historically the bastard child of Arthur and his great nemesis at the end of his reign -- in the story when Arthur himself is still a child, battling with giant elephants (let's be honest here, they're Tolkien's oliphants) against King Uther, who traditionally defeated Vortigern but who now is defeated by him, and who is apparently now his brother.

We still have the sword in the stone, but the stone is now Uther's corpse. We have a villain drawn from the fantasy art of Frank Frazetta, no less. We have a brothel where Arthur grows up -- very different from the usual fostering with Ector and Kay, or even the magical fostering with Merlin (who doesn't appear in this film) -- and, in the heart of Londinium, a ... martial arts dojo? Also, using Excalibur apparently turns Arthur into the Flash. Oh, and Vortigern keeps Ursula the Sea-Witch in the basement of his castle so he can sacrifice loved ones to her in exchange for wishes.

You can love or hate Ritchie's frenetic, video-game style of filmmaking, with scenes cut apart and sewn together to skew the flow of time and make things happen very quickly. Either way, it needs to add up to a good story, and the story here is lost. Likewise, a lot of fast clips and special effects don't make up for the lack of good fight choreography.

This is a long, dark music video, but it's not a movie. I'm told Ritchie plans to make five more of them, and I feel sorry for the actors who are contractually obligated to return. (I'd name some of them in this review, but no one stands out enough to deserve special attention.)

We get it, Guy -- you didn't really want to make a King Arthur movie. Why, then, did you bother to use the characters' names in this script? Make it a movie about Sammy the Swordsman and get crazy with it.

review by
Tom Knapp

2 September 2017

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