Some directors have a very distinct style, and Guy Ritchie can easily qualify as being one of those such directors. His two-film take on the character of Sherlock Holmes, featuring Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law as Holmes and Watson, are very different than what you'd expect for period films. Yet, Ritchie brings a lot of bravado to those films -- and really, all of his films. 2015's The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was a cool and slick spy film set in the 1960s, and his unique storytelling methods helped to make the film better than it was. For 2017, Ritchie helmed an update on the tale of King Arthur, titled King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, which was a labor of love for the filmmaker. However, the end result is a mixed bag that will certainly not be everyone's cup of tea.
When watching a Guy Ritchie film, you kind of have to know what you're getting yourself into. 2009's Sherlock Holmes was my introduction to his work, and for the most part, I enjoyed the style he brought to the table. His fingerprints were all over the film, but he used his style as a storytelling device more so than a gimmick. But I think, unfortunately, King Arthur proves that it's a style that doesn't work in just any setting. But what's most unfortunate about King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is that the love and appreciation for the story is there, the acting chops are displayed in full, but it's just kind of a mess. It's that kind of movie that has you--on more than one occasion--scratching your head and wondering "What the heck am I watching exactly?" The opening scene shows us gigantic, as-big-as-castles Lord of the Rings-style elephants rampaging through a kingdom and that pretty well sets up the kind of movie and cinematic world you're about to enter into. It doesn't help either that the tone of the film is a bizarre mix of modern and period. Charlie Hunnam is decent in the role, but with his appearance, you'd half expect him to be wielding an electric guitar and not Excalibur. (I just thank God they didn't choose to have him with one of those abysmal "man buns" to complete a truly goofy, over-the-top modern look.) Hunnam, in fact, commits to the role well, but it doesn't feel like he's playing the man who would be "King" Arthur. Meanwhile, Jude Law is excellent as his evil uncle, Vortigern, trading his "good doctor" type role of John Watson for a truly evil antagonist here. The rest of the cast is good, too, stepping into the time period a bit more smoothly than the titular character -- that is, except for the few moments when we see tattoo-covered characters, on a rare occasion, that look more like they accidentally wandered in front of the camera instead of blending right into the scenery.
While the character of Merlin is only mentioned by name, there is indeed a presence of magic and black magic that could make some viewers uneasy. In a choppy and confusing opening action sequence, we see a warlock of sorts influencing attacking armies, while magical forces are used to obliterate opposing forces into smouldering ash. Vortigern then taps into to some kind of dark magic to become a demon-like armor-clad warrior in an attempt to vanquish his brother, King Uther, and take over the kingdom. Later, in one of the biggest "What in the world?!" moments, a large octopus starts to emerge from a pool of water in a cave, only to reveal that it's actually three humanoid sirens (whose topless nudity is covered up by their own long hair) with a tentacled body. We never exactly learn who they are or why they possess any kind of power that they grant to Vortigern. And, years after becoming king, we hear that Vortigern's power is growing, but we don't know how or why. Later, the magical Mage (played by Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides' mermaid, Astrid Bergès-Frisbey) uses her power to conjure up a colossal snake. And, among all this, there's the sequence where Arthur enters some kind of dangerous, magical place where huge rats, bats and snakes are the norm and he must survive it to continue down the path to be king... yeah, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense. As a standalone fantasy film, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword isn't bad, despite still possessing problems, but trying to strike a balance between realism and fantasy doesn't really seem to work very well here.
The content is pretty rough, mostly in regards to violence. There isn't much by way of graphic violence, but there's still a lot of sword and action violence and it's frequently bloody in some respects. One scene shows Vortigern interrogating a character the audience has been following throughout the film, and he slices off his ear before slitting his throat. Both slices are off screen and not graphic, but after Vortigern cuts off the man's ear, we briefly see him holding it in his fingers and speaking into it. Given the time period, though, we see lots of swordplay action and fight sequences, with many characters getting stabbed, sometimes with bloody results. Language isn't frequently problematic, but Law's Vortigern does surprisingly use the "F" word prominently in one scene. Other language is mostly kept to just a handful of uses of "b*stard" and "a--." Finally, aside from the partially nude sirens, Arthur is actually raised in a brothel, so there are some references to that. We also see a montage of Arthur growing up there and he, at first, witnesses men slapping around some of the women in the brothel, until, when he's older, we see him stop it.
Honestly, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword isn't a complete and total loss. It's entertaining from start to finish, even though it can feel like a mess at times. All of the ingredients for a great action epic are present, despite them not really quite coming together as best they could. If you're a fan of Ritchie's style, and aren't bothered by the idea of King Arthur getting the Guy Ritchie treatment, then I think King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is still worth checking out. King Arthur fans will probably cry heresy--and they probably have a right to--but despite its (many) flaws, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is still an entertaining--if not a tad overlong--two hours of fantasy action.
- John DiBiase (reviewed: 8/11/17)
Blu-Ray Special Features Review
King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is available in a 3D Blu-Ray/2-Disc 2D Blu-Ray/Digtial combo pack, a Blu-Ray/DVD/Digital combo pack, 2-disc DVD, and a 4K Ultra HD release with a Blu-Ray disc and digital copy, as well as separately through the usual digital movie providers. The regular Blu-Ray disc is chock-full with the following features:
Arthur with Swagger (9:41) - Despite the film having a disappointing run at the box office, there are quite a few extras featured on this set. In this first one, we learn that Charlie was a fan of King Arthur as a kid, even having fashioned his own Excalibur out of wood. We also hear about his training for filming, see a lot of B-Roll footage, and hear about Guy and Charlie's friendship on set. This featurette also features a great deal of bleeped-out "F" words throughout it.
Sword from the Stone (18:49) talks about trying to do something different with this film, creating a unique look and feel for the film. It covers costume design, production meetings, animation visualizations, testing some special effects, and lots more.
Parry and Bleed (5:44) is about the rigorous training in the film, stunts and sword fights.
Building on the Past (14:00) opens in October, 2014 with a peek into a meeting with Ritchie and his creative team. The featurette continues on to cover the look of the film, designing and building large sets and even repurposing some for other scenes. It's really impressive to see how much detail went into these sets - from the throne room to Londinium to even reusing pieces of
The Legend of Tarzan's sets!
Inside the Cut: the Action of King Arthur (6:08) - Here, we see lots and lots of set footage as stunt coordinator Eunice Huthart directs the action (there's also a lot more bleeped uses of the "F" word and even a couple of the "C" word).
Camelot in 93 Days (10:23) - Guy comments that this film has had the longest preproduction of any of his movies. It goes through some highlights from the production, working on the sets (and in at least one case, making them bigger) and filming in Scotland. (More bleeped out profanity)
Legend of Excalibur (6:05) gives us a look into the painstaking process of designing the iconic sword.
Scenic Scotland (5:33) takes us on location to Scotland where they filmed on the hillside without using any sets. Here, we see even more filming footage, including Charlie's final day of shooting.
- John DiBiase, (reviewed: 8/11/17)
Parental Guide: Brief Summary of Content
Sex/Nudity: Arthur is raised by women in a brothel. We briefly see a couple instances where a man stands over a woman on a bed - both are clothed - and he hits her; An octopus uncurls to reveal three topless women, with their hair covering any nudity; When the brothel is torched, we see women running out, some with just sheets wrapped around them;
Vulgarity/Language: 1 "f" word, 1 mouthed "What the f--k?!"; 3 "a" words; 5 "b*stard," 1 "t*ts"
Alcohol/Drugs: We see miscellaneous drinking in some scenes; In one scene, some men talk about using brandy to start a fire, and we see they're drinking some too;
Blood/Gore: Magic causes soldiers to obliterate into flames and ash; Blood spontaneously drips from Vortigern's nose; We see some bloody cuts on Uther's face; We briefly see a torn tapestry with blood stains on it; We see a little boy with blood on his face; During a montage where we see Arthur growing up, we see some bloody scrapes on his face; A prostitute has a bloody eye; We see a man with a bloody arm with blood dripping onto the floor; Older Arthur has some scars on his face; We see a little blood on Uther when getting hit with a sword; We see people being branded on the wrist with hot irons; We see some blood on a man's face after Arthur hits him; Arthur has scars on his hands from his childhood. We see a flashback of himself as a little boy with bloody cuts on his hands; We see bloody scrapes on Arthur's face; We see Arthur with blood on his hand and face with a swollen eye; Goose Fat shoots an arrow and it lands next to a man who looks over at it and notices some blood on it. Blood them comes from his mouth as he collapses; We see blood on a man's shirt after being stabbed; A character is stabbed and has a lot of blood on their face and hands; Arthur has some blood over his eye; We see more people with bloody faces and one man's clothed stomach; The Mage has a slightly bloody cut on her back that she wipes with a cloth; We briefly see Vortigern holding a severed ear in his hand; One of Arthur's friends is briefly shown chained up with blood all over his face; Some dead bodies seen in a cave have some blood on their faces; Vortigern slices the head off a snake and blood sprays on him and his righthand man nearby; A dead woman is placed in a pool of water and we briefly see some blood on her dress; A dying man has a little bit of blood on him.
Violence: The film opens during a large scale battle and we see elephants destroying walls; magic causes soldiers to obliterate into flames and ash; Men fall off bridge to their death; Uther attacks a warlock with Excalibur; Vortigern stabs his wife, killing her; We see lots of soldiers attacking a castle and stabbing, beating, and dragging other soldiers; We Uther's wife killed with a spear just below the view of the camera. We then see this shot several more times throughout the film, including a shot where we see the spear go through her and toward the screen from an opposite angle; During a montage where we see Arthur growing up, we see him smacked around as a young boy, watching fighting, briefly witnessing a hanging, seeing men hitting women in a brothel. When he's older, we see him stop these men when they raise their hands to the women. We then see him training to fight; Men fight over the sword in the stone; We see a man get shot in the leg with an arrow. Arthur holds a knife to a man's throat as he threatens him; We see Uther fighting in a nightmare of Arthur's where he's struck down with a sword; We see soldiers running through the town banging on doors; We see people being branded on the wrist with hot irons; A woman's throat is cut off screen; Arthur's head is forcefully pushed down onto a chopping block; The Mage causes nearby dogs and animals to intervene in the beheading. They attack the king's soldiers and pandemonium ensues as Arthur escapes. Some people are stabbed as there's fighting. Arthur and his allies jump off a cliff into water; The Mage uses her powers to make Arthur fall off a horse; Goose Fat slaps Arthur in the face; Arthur fights the kings' men; Arthur has scars on his hands from his childhood. We see a flashback of himself as a little boy with bloody cuts on his hands; Arthur goes to a dangerous land where he fights all kinds of animals - mostly large ones, like large bats, snakes and rats; We see the spear going through Arthur's mom again; We see Uther fighting in a nightmare of Arthur's again, where he sees his father sliced with a sword repeatedly. When he sees he's lost, he throws the sword into the air and it lands into his back. He then turns to stone and sinks into the water; The king torches Arthur's town and the brothel; Arthur's men fight to free some slave children in cages; We see a bunch of arrows hit soldiers; We see exploding arrows in the sky; There is a lot more fighting and stabbing in the streets. A character is stabbed and has a lot of blood on them; There's more fighting in the streets; Arthur tries to convince his trainer friend and his students to flee their compound. They insist on staying to fight and get overrun by soldiers. Arthur wields Excalibur and we see the force of it send the soldiers flying through the air, defeating them all; Vortigern interrogates a man and threatens to cut his ear off. He then slices off the ear, but we don't see it. We do see Vortigern briefly holding the ear and talking into it. He then slices the man's throat off screen, killing him; Vortigern's soldiers ravage a town; Arthur recalls friends he's lost and we see flashbacks of a few of the deaths; Arthur sees a vision of what Londinium could look like if Vortigern has his way, and we see lots of devastation; One of Arthur's friends is briefly shown chained up with blood all over his face, as he's clearly been tortured and interrogated; We briefly see a couple dead bodies hanging in the forest and dead bodies littering a cave; The Mage makes a snake bite Arthur in the neck and we see it sink its teeth in; Vortigern slices the head off a snake and blood sprays on him and his righthand man nearby; A gigantic snake bursts into the throne room and eats several of Vortigern's men; Vortigern holds a woman and stabs her to death. He cries in anguish over his actions; We see Arthur destroying soldiers in slow motion again; Arthur's battle with the villain is pretty brutal - he gets thrown around as he slices at the man with his sword. He finally is able to stab him and we see them fall onto an altar, crushing it, and then die.
** Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not on content. However, if the content really affects the reviewer's opinion of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's rating.