The classic stories of King Arthur and Excalibur have been relayed through film on countless occasions, so a fresh take on the tale is indeed welcome given how predictable and/or mediocre other adaptions have been. If there’s one director who could inject a dose of the unexpected into the story it’s Guy Ritchie, unfortunately though his penchant for kinetic editing and fast-paced visuals don’t lend themselves successfully to this type of grand period piece that can’t decide just what kind of film it wishes to be.
Following a heavily edited prologue that details a young Arthur witnessing the denial of his birthright to take the throne when his evil uncle Vortigern (Jude Law) slays his father Uther (Eric Bana) in front of him, Legend of the Sword brings us eerily up to speed as a grown-up Arthur (Charlie Hunnam, delivering all sex-appeal and no substance) is summoned by the now-King Vortigern to pull the iconic sword from the stone, which in turn confirms Vortigern’s fears that his nephew is still alive and could overthrow his tyrannical rule.
As we know where the story is heading, the script from Ritchie, Lionel Wigram (The Man from U.N.C.L.E.) and Joby Harold (commissioned to pen the upcoming The Flash) manages to concoct an obscene amount of silliness in the interim, and it’s only when the film embraces a sense of humour that it feels remotely entertaining.
Following his more modestly-budgeted successes Lock, Stock…, Snatch and RocknRolla (we’ll just pretend that whole Madonna project never happened) it appeared that Ritchie was poised to competently handle the reins of a blockbuster when his Robert Downey Jr-led Sherlock Holmes features combined his signature style with a studio mentality, and had he approached this story from the same angle this so-called “legendary” tale may have been remotely comprehensible.
It’s all very well-and-good that Ritchie doesn’t appear to be taking the whole affair seriously in his bid to deliver a mindless popcorn romp, but the film is peppered with so many dark moments (children witnessing murder, Vortigern murdering his own family etc) that there’s an uneasy balance on the whole, and the smarts required to be as successfully mindless as the film wishes to be are beyond Ritchie’s capabilities.