There hasn’t been a decent King Arthur movie since John Boorman’s pretty but portentous Excalibur (1981). But now that swords, sorcery and SFX are bigger business than ever, thanks to GoT and LOTR, it was only a matter of time before someone tried to kickstart a new franchise with a visionary director. Step forward Warner Bros and Guy Ritchie with the first in what was at one point apparently conceived as, whisper it, a six-part series.
Legend of the Sword opens in epic battle mode, with 300ft attack elephants storming the castle of Arthur’s father Uther Pendragon (Eric Bana), and the villainous Vortigen (Jude Law) seizing power. Then, boom, we’re in a medieval Londinium-set caper movie which recasts Arthur (Charlie Hunnam) as another of Ritchie’s street-smart geezers on the make. With sped-up storytelling, multiple narrators and jokey nicknames all round, it’s familiar territory for the writer/director, even if purists will blanch at a super-buff King Arthur sassing his foes with sexist putdowns. There’s even a footballer cameo – although it’s David Beckham rather than Vinnie Jones this time.
The film’s final act is more traditional, and forgettable, with Arthur and his ragtag gang, including the always-reliable Dijmon Hounsou and Neil Maskell, the charismatic if underused Craig McGinlay, and the strikingly wooden Astrid Bergès-Frisbey, plotting to regain his rightful kingdom with the help of a certain sword.
With plenty of character, but no consistency, the film is so scattershot in its world-building that none of it convinces. Are we watching a fantastical epic? A jokey post-modern takedown? Ritchie can’t seem to decide and, in the constant rush to keep us watching, throws everything at the screen instead. The result is an unholy, if entertaining, mess.