There’s a distinctive tone and language to the work of Guy Ritchie that makes his cinematic endeavours undoubtedly his. He’s injected such sensibilities into Medieval Britain with his latest production King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, yet his sharp dialogue and frenetic editing techniques feels contrived. While a unique means of entering into this triumphant stomping ground, if a new filmmaker had been behind this you’d be inclined to heap praise on such an approach – yet instead we’re dealing with a filmmaker simply emulating and mimicking his very own style; a style which has got somewhat tired since he burst onto the scene with Lock Stock almost 20 years ago.
Charlie Hunnam plays the eponymous hero, raised on the streets of Londinium, and in particular, a local brothel. Unaware of his royal ancestry, he possesses the power no other has – to pull the sword from the stone; a sword that once belonged to his father Uther (Eric Bana). Unbeknown to Arthur, is that his uncle; the nefarious, tyrannical leader Vortigern, is awaiting this miracle, knowing that once the sword is free, he just needs to kill his nephew to take control of this powerful, magic weapon. So Arthur must galvanise the people to begin a rebellion against this dictator, and reclaim the nation from the clutches of pure evil.
Though medieval England represents a gritty environment, where sex and violence is prevalent, it’s a landscape with fantastical tendencies, enriched by a sense of enchantment, which Ritchie exploits to his advantage. At the core of the tale is an antihero for the audience to embody, and it’s a role brought to life by the dependable Hunnam, whose casting is spot on – for by having Arthur played by a slightly older actor (Hunnam is nearing 40), this equips the part with a sense of wisdom and last-chance desperation of sorts, somebody who has been around the block and has very little to lose. Conversely, Law’s Vortigern makes for an underwhelming antagonist, not quite formidable enough, always feeling as though he can be overcome and beaten to the throne – where in a picture of this nature you need to believe that the hero’s endeavour is something of an impossibility.
Ritchie’s stylistic approach is hit and miss, and for the most part, is regrettably the latter – as the dialogue feels forced, and the blending of this laddish, free-flowing conversation seems at odds with the grandiose fantasy elements, resulting in a film that, for the most part, is just really bloody silly, which can be a struggle to get fully on board with. But the film suffers mostly from its plodding middle act, as Arthur uncovers his own identity almost too early into proceedings, not quite allowing the narrative much room to manoeuvre, with tedium kicking in as we patiently anticipate the grand(ish) finale.
King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is released on May 19th.