King Arthur: Legend of the Sword review: "A medieval mishmash that’s rarely magic"

GamesRadar+ Verdict

Hunnam handles the fist and sword fights better than the accent in a medieval mishmash that’s rarely magic.

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Telescopic crash-zooms, freeze frames, supporting geezers named Kung Fu Georgie, Mike the Spike and Goosefat Bill… if there were any doubt that this is Guy Ritchie’s fast, loose take on the King Arthur legend, then having the natural-born monarch address a female warrior as “honey tits” clears the matter up.

Ritchie’s flippant folklore flimflam opens with Mordred’s (Rob Knighton) army marching on Camelot, the ground shuddering under the stomps of elephants so enormous they could gobble Peter Jackson’s oliphants as bar snacks. Not that this CG prologue leaves much of an imprint, playing out like Zack Snyder’s offcuts as it moves the pieces into place: the king, Uther Pendragon (Eric Bana), is struck down, and his brother, Vortigern (Jude Law), embarks upon a reign of fear.

One itsy-bitsy problem: Pendragon’s baby son, the rightful king, has been sneaked to safety; a machine-gun montage shows him growing up on the mean streets of Londinium. But not long after he’s filled out, beautifully, into Charlie Hunnam, a scar-faced, golden-toothed David Beckham orders him to take his turn at trying to free the mighty sword Excalibur from a boulder. He succeeds, is thereby identified as Vortigern’s enemy, and is sentenced to death. Then shit proper kicks off…

Painted in the same blue-grey palette as Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes movies and similarly eager to jazz everything up, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is not without its moments, many of them involving the director’s old mucker Law giving it supersized sneer with a side of snide.

Arthur plunging alone into the Darklands – a blackly fertile isle inhabited by all manner of beast and fowl – to harness Excalibur’s power is like Luke visiting Dagobah by way of Pandora. Meanwhile, a guerrilla attempt on Vortigern’s life flaunts the geographical range, eye-in-sky choreography and ground-level torque that distinguished The Man from U.N.C.L.E.’s madcap climactic chase.

Mainly, though, this is a tonal misfire, its characters cut down by a blitzkrieg of whip pans, CGI and thunderous percussion. And with Ritchie again rummaging in his increasingly threadbare bag of tricks, the result is a movie more jaundiced than jaunty. There’s a thin line between visionary and hodgepodge, and it’s a line that King Arthur crosses and re-crosses with an abandon that rivals Hunnam’s accent sliding from Cockney to Californian and back again.

The plan is to make a total of six King Arthur movies, with Warner Bros hoping for a fantasy epic to rival Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, the Marvel Cinematic Universe and its own Harry Potter/Fantastic Beasts franchise. This is a wobbly start, suggesting there needs to be plenty of meetings round tables to ensure a second instalment is forged stronger and sharper.

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Editor-at-Large, Total Film

Jamie Graham is the Editor-at-Large of Total Film magazine. You'll likely find them around these parts reviewing the biggest films on the planet and speaking to some of the biggest stars in the business – that's just what Jamie does. Jamie has also written for outlets like SFX and the Sunday Times Culture, and appeared on podcasts exploring the wondrous worlds of occult and horror.