When a power-hungry king destroys his kingdom day by day and tries to build a tower that will make his dreams of becoming stronger than anyone else true, someone grows to be the leader in the shadows of ye olde Londinium. However, this gangster who worked his way up in the street ranks and learned how to protect himself and those who he cares about doesn’t realise he’s got a mission to fulfil yet. When he picks up a sword from the stone that protected it from many daredevils before, he discovers that he’s the lost king – but he must fight for his people first.
Experimenting with characters and making them more approachable for the audience can either make your character a relatable, quirky smartass, or a laughable idiot. Guy Ritchie, who has executed an interesting, modern take on Sherlock Holmes and quite an amusing rendition of The Man from U.N.C.L.E (an unpopular opinion: I enjoyed it), really seems to make these well-known characters and shape them into something that brings sheer entertainment to a night out in the cinema. Let’s be honest: nobody expects it to be a highly ambitious, multi-dimensional flick, so many things go unnoticed when you look through the film using the lens of the genre. However, this time the director miscalculated the distance between the enjoyable and downright stupid, stumbling on little things before throwing its sword in the air while performing a big trick, and getting pierced by it. And sadly, you won’t be able to retrieve that sword stuck in stone at least until he releases his live action Aladdin.
The story is another take on a legend – but despite its dreams of being an epic, it falls short to the films such as Braveheart that actually managed to pull it off. It’s not distinctive enough to compete with the variety of spin-offs on the much-loved myth that already exist. The plot is populated by characters that are shallow and offer no emotional depth. They’re simply good or bad, and even an attempt at showing that Arthur has grown into a brave, honourable man despite his circumstances isn’t fully convincing.
And if we want to touch upon that, we need to realise that the film has been totally “ladified”. And it’s not because the film pays a tribute to a powerful mage who is, in fact, a lady – that word has a slightly different etymology in the context of this film. The Legend of the Sword takes a turn on ladifying – it basically takes all the things lad and makes the character a prime example of them in an Urban Dictionary entry. The main character is a king who grew up with the working class in a vision of ancient London turned upside down: and he, of course, thinks that you can insult somebody by yelling at him that he “screams like a girl”. It’s a pity that a person that’s much more powerful and wiser than him is a woman. And we need to say that she’s probably the most badass character of them all, spewing wisdom at the lads and shutting Arthur’s advances down when he gets particularly savage. There’s a lot of imbalance in this movie, and it looks as if the scriptwriters didn’t really decide whether they wanted to have an interesting female character that’s more than a body to be sacrificed or not.
Working with a poor script, the actors had a difficult task to fulfil: because their characters were so flat, it was insanely difficult to make them appeal to the audience. The cast, for the most part, score satisfactory marks for everything they managed to do with an imperfect storyline: Jude Law is charmingly charismatic in building his diabolic, power-hungry antagonist, and Charlie Hunnam (who’s recently starred in The Lost City of Z) is believable when he faces the doubts stops to wonder if he wants people to be fighting “in his name”. A Spanish actress Astrid Bergès-Frisbey has also created a decent character in her first role of this calibre, even if she seems distant and a little stiff at times.
However, the nail in the coffin is the use of special effects. As much as they look decent from the start, the repetition makes us feel that they’re not used as a piece of a puzzle that fits together with the rest, but merely some eye candy that has no significance in story progression or character portrayal. In the final battle, some slow-motion effects stop the show (so that we can roll our eyes), and the build-up never seems to inject enough excitement into the finale.
King Arthur: The Legend of the Sword sounded like a perfect recipe for a summer blockbuster. However, the poor attempts at jokes and character creation tanked the concept completely; what’s left of it is overdone VFX and the feeling that this film could be better if it didn’t try so hard to transform Arthur into a lad to make him believable and human.
King Arthur: The Legend of the Sword opens on the 19th of May.