The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

Guy Ritchie knows how to make a movie look good, but storytelling really isn't his strong suit. That problem, which has been a constant throughout his career, comes to a head with King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. The world doesn't necessarily need another movie about King Arthur. Ritchie seems to know that and is so intent on making his version Not Your Father's King Arthur that he loses all the things that are inherently interesting about the legend to begin with. His movie is as empty as it is pretty.

An appealingly (and misleadingly) dark pre-credits sequence sets up the premise. The nefarious Vortigern (Jude Law) murders his brother, King Uther (Eric Bana), thereby seizing the crown. Uther does, however, manage to send his young son Arthur to safety before this happens. Two decades later, the now-grown Arthur (Charlie Hunnam) has no idea of his royal heritage. Only after he does something no one else has been able to do – pull a mythic, long-stuck sword from a stone – does it become apparent that he's someone special. He joins the resistance against Vortigern, receiving some much-needed training from a rebel named Guinevere (Astrid Berges-Frisbey). Then he sets out to reclaim his birthright from the uncle who robbed him of it.

When you think of King Arthur, what comes to mind? Probably not gigantic snakes, tree people, elaborate gravity-defying fights, or gargantuan elephants crushing entire villages under their feet. All those things, and more, factor in here. At times, this feels more like a genre B-movie than a story about betrayal and familial conflict. Ritchie clearly has no interest in the character dynamics or romantic themes that have traditionally been part of the tale. He wants to make something hip and cool and modern – a fact that Legend of the Sword forcefully reminds you of every, oh, three seconds or so.

There's such an abundance of in-your-face style going on that it's virtually impossible to get into the story. Every shot appears composed to deliver some kind of gut-punch “wow” factor. The camera swirls around dizzyingly, images alternately speed up and slow down, and the editing is like a music video on methamphetamine. When characters run, little cameras are mounted onto the actors, giving us shaky closeups of their heads as they sprint at full-speed. Everything is CGI-ed to death, as well. The (many) action scenes all have that FX-driven scope that was so amazing in Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy but which has been co-opted by almost every fantasy film since.

All the focus on spectacle detracts from the thing that should be most important: the rivalry between Arthur and Vortigern. While Hunnam is suitably intense as the former and Law delightfully sniveling as the latter, they have almost no scenes together. Worse, Legend of the Sword is so busy trying to be eye-popping that scant attention is paid to making us feel how badly Arthur wants to take down his murderous uncle. There's a world of motivation at hand. Rather than exploring it, the movie simply makes Vortigern a Requisite Bad Guy, here only to have an antagonist for the obligatory final battle.

When the King Arthur legend is so rich, why ignore all the human elements that would draw a viewer in? Certainly, there's enough to work with that an original approach could be taken that doesn't completely betray the fundamental appeal. Ritchie doesn't do that, though. He wants to be all-new all the time, to the point where one has to wonder why he didn't just pen an original story rather than trying to reinvent a familiar one.

On the plus side, Hunnam and Law, as mentioned, are effective in their roles, and Daniel Pemberton's score is outstanding. (Seriously, listen to a sample of it.) Ritchie may not be able (or willing) to tell a cohesive story, but he knows how to provide visual flash. There's just too much overkill and not enough plot in this case. The end credits roll at the two-hour mark. By that time, you're worn out from the bombastic approach and ready for King Arthur: Legend of the Sword to be over.

( out of four)

Blu-ray Features:

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword will be released on 3D Blu-ray combo pack, Blu-ray combo pack, and DVD on August 8. Warner Brothers Home Entertainment provided a complimentary copy of the Blu-ray for the purposes of this review.

There is a nice selection of supplementary material included on the disc. “Arthur with Swagger” focuses on star Charlie Hunnam and how his casting was part of coming up with a new way of conceiving a familiar character. “Sword from the Stone” shows how director Guy Ritchie attempted to bring a fresh spin to the legend of Camelot. “Parry and Bleed” provides a glimpse of the sword training the actors had to go through in order to look convincing onscreen.

“Building on the Past” is about the design and construction of the Londinium sets. “Inside the Cut: The Action of King Arthur” details how the action scenes were staged and choreographed. “Camelot in 93 Days” is a look at what happens on a movie set when filming lasts more than three months. “Legend of Excalibur” examines the famous sword, as well as its place in this new adaptation. Finally, there's “Scenic Scotland,” which documents the filming in this beautiful country.

All in all, the bonus materials are thorough, serving up a good behind-the-scenes look at how this new envisioning of the King Arthur legend came together.

Sound and picture quality on the Blu-ray are excellent.

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, some suggestive content and brief strong language. The running time is 2 hours and 6 minutes.

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