Director Guy Ritchie arrived on the scene with a literal bang almost twenty years ago, following up 1998’s now-classic Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels with the even-better Snatch in 2000. Blending his distinctive jump-cut, fast-paced style with ultra-violence and some of moviedom’s more colorful characters, Ritchie established himself as a unique voice.
There were a few hiccups in subsequent years (Swept Away, Revolver), but he got back on track with Robert Downey Jr. and the two Sherlock Holmes flicks, and now he’s giving Medieval times a try with King Arthur: Legend of the Sword.
As we all know, a colon in the title can only mean one thing—the launch (or continuation) of a movie franchise. Ritchie (who also co-wrote the screenplay with Lionel Wigram and Joby Harold) chose to kick things off with an origin story, ostensibly to set up a long and enduring series of Arthur movies. Had Legend actually been anything more than the wasted effort it is, he might have been onto something. Instead we’re left to watch a lot of needless wheel-spinning just to get us to the next chapter, which now likely (if the cinema gods are smiling on us) will never come.
Charlie Hunnam stars as young Arthur, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Before we get there, we’re given a messy extended prologue that sets everything up; and, yes, that means we’re getting a set up of a set up. Arthur’s father Uther (Eric Bana) is betrayed by his brother Vortigern (Jude Law), who stages a coup, forcing Uther to ship baby Arthur down the river Moses-style.
Unaware of his lineage Arthur grows up in Londinium, learning how to fight and be an all-around rabble-rouser. Meanwhile Vortigern has begun the hunt for Uther’s heir, knowing the young man will surely prove his undoing. He makes every able-bodied and appropriately-aged man attempt to pull the fabled sword from the stone, which Arthur, of course, does.
Vortigern promptly locks him up, but instead of just killing Arthur on the spot, the king makes a grand spectacle of it, naturally giving Arthur’s allies plenty of time to stage a rescue. Arthur, of course, escapes and then sets out to remove Vortigern from power and try to take his own rightful place as king. Spoiler alert: look at the title.
The problem here is not with Ritchie’s direction; his fans will find stuff to like, including several of his trademarked quick-cut backstory monologues. The battle scenes are choreographed well, and the visual effects are pretty darn nifty throughout. Unfortunately the script is so poorly put together that its shortcomings infect everything else around it. Much of it is either incoherent, sluggish, or both. The story does little other than meander along; clearly Ritchie and his co-writers were confident Legend would only be the first chapter in a franchise of awesome.
Given the finished product, though, the legend stops here. There may once have been a fleeting wisp of glory called Camelot, but we’ll have to (gladly) be content hearing the rest of the tale from someone else.
Worth the 3D glasses?
If you have to sit through it, or if you’re an overly allegiant Ritchie fan, then yes, spring for the snazzy glasses. There’s more than enough going on visually to warrant the extra few bucks.