Guy Ritchie puts his distinctive flavor on a re-imagining of the story of King Arthur and how he came to be the mythical King of England.
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After sacrificing his wife to some sirens to gain a supernatural power, Vortigern (Jude Law) leads a coup against his brother, the King of England, Uther Pendragon (Eric Bana). Fleeing the castle, Uther is able to allow his son, Arthur (Charlie Hunnam) to escape down the river. Uther is killed but, before he dies, he embeds his legendary sword, Excalibur, into his own body. His body becomes a stone that holds the stone fast, allowing no one except for his son to draw it. Vortigen becomes king, but knowing that Arthur is still out there, he begins a hunt for the true heir to the throne.
Arthur floats down the river to the city of Londinium. When he is found, he’s taken to a brothel, where he’s raised. As he grew older, Arthur turned into a scoundrel with a heart of gold. He became a skilled fighter and spent his efforts gathering money and favor and protecting the girls at the brothel. Arthur and his friends attack some Vikings after they rough up one of the girls. This brings a local officer to the brothel. He tells Arthur that those Vikings were protected by the king. The girl ends up being killed and Arthur is shipped off to the main kingdom with other men. He is brought to the stone as part of Vortigern’s systematic hunt for the heir to the throne. When Arthur pulls the sword, he is overwhelmed by images and energy and passes out.
Arthur awakes to find himself in the dungeon. Vortigern explains the situation to Arthur, who doesn’t want anything to do with it. Even so, Vortigern must kill Arthur in order to solidify his power. He stages a public execution in an attempt to quell any rumors among the populace about a “true heir”. He forces Arhtur to cooperate by threating the rest of the girls from the brothel but, before Arthur can be beheaded, a team of resistance fighters storm the stage and rescue Arthur.
Arthur is brought to meet Sir Bedevere (Djimon Hounsou), a former general under Uther. Bedevere has been leading a resistance against Vortigern, who’s tyrannical rule had not only repressed the people, but had driven out any magic users (mages) from the kingdom. He is called to action by a woman known as “The Mage” (Astrid Berges-Frisbey), who was sent by Merlin. Bedevere explains to Arthur that Vortigern’s ultimate plan is to construct the Mage Tower in order to become unstoppable. The key to destroying the tower is Excalibur, but Arthur is still unable to control it.
The Mage suggests that Arthur travel to the Blacklands, a desolate place full of monsters. There, Arthur relives the night of his parent’s death, which he had been trying to block out. He sees the entire altercation and learns about the sword and his father’s sacrifice. After seeing this he agrees to fight.
Along with the help of some other Barons, Arthur and the rebels come up with a plan to assassinate Vortigern. Vortigern discovers there plan and leaves a decoy in his place. When the rebel shooter, Goosefat Bill Turner (Aiden Gillan), decides to take the opportunity to get revenge on his former fellow soldiers, Londinium erupts into chaos. The rebels flee, but are pursued by an expectant military force. They take refuge in Arthur’s old martial arts school, but the soldiers are on top of them. None of the rebels (including Arthur) want to leave a man behind, so a fight ensues. During which Arthur sees the Mage get attacked. Seeing this, Arthur grasps Excalibur with two hands, activating it’s power. There’s a big swing and a cloud of dust. When it settles, Arthur is standing alone with the soldiers on the ground as his compatriots look on in shock.
Before they can make a clean escape, one of Arthur’s friends is killed by Vortigern. This, along with the failed mission, causes Arthur to feel like a failure and to discard Excalibur. When he does, the Lady of the Lake pulls him under the water and shows him a vision of what will happen if Vortigern succeeds. Arthur returns to the rebel hideout to find most of his allies dead. Vortigern leaves him a message that he has the Mage and a young boy and, if Arthur doesn’t surrender, he will kill them.
After negotiating the release of the Mage, Arthur surrenders. However, before anything can happen to Arthur, the Mage summons a giant snake that attacks the castle. This starts an all out battle between the remaining rebels and the soldiers. The tide of the battle swings when Arthur, once again, activates his Excalibur mode. After watching him mow down soldiers with superhuman movements, the soldiers within the castle lay down their arms and allow Arthur to confront Vortigen.
Knowing that he needs help, Vortigen sacrifices his daughter to the sirens in order to regain the demonic form he used to slay Uther. He then brings Arthur to another plane of existence where the two face off. Finally realizing that the monster that haunted his dreams was his treacherous uncle, Arthur tells Vortigen that everything that brought them to this point has actually been Vortigen’s own doing. Arthur defeats his uncle and destroys the Mage Tower.
A while later, Arthur is shown as the new king although he is still very much himself. The Vikings that he met earlier come before him requesting that he honor a deal made with Vortigen to ship children away as slaves. Arthur informs them that he is a king that represents and defends the people, not one that sells them into slavery. After telling them to kneel to acknowledge them, he offers them a meal stating that, “it’s better to have friends than enemies”. Arthur is then shown being properly coronated before droves of cheering people.
- I’m not sure if it was intentional or not, but the movie seems to have made Arthur’s back story very similar to that Moses.
- Vortigern’s wife, Elsa is played by Katie McGrath. Katie played Morgana in the BBC’s adaptation of the King Arthur mythology: Merlin.
- Due mostly to Arthur’s last scene with the Vikings, this movie has been accused of being politically charged. Arthur basically replaces a dictatorship with a republic after fighting with a bunch of rebel freedom fighters. He also does this with the help of a Mage, who’s people are basically framed as terrorists by those in power.
- The Mage is never given an identity other than “The Mage”. I was really hoping that we were going to find out that she was Merlin in disguise. Granted, that would’ve put a strange twist on the pseudo-romance between her and Arthur.
- There are two scenes in this movie that use a mechanic very familiar to Guy Ritchie fans. Arthur makes a habit out of narrating events that have or will happen. As he does this, the movie shows you the events with Arthur’s voice overlaid on other character’s moving mouths.
What did I think?
This movie kind of started my trend of going to see movies this summer with low expectations and being pleasantly surprised. I like Guy Ritchie’s movies even if it’s mostly because they have a subtle way of introducing a testosterone and/or adrenaline kick. His character’s usually have charming and witty dialogue and a refreshing attitude about them. On that level, this movie gave me exactly what I was expecting.
It may have been at the expense of staying true to the usual mythology of King Arthur, but it was still fun. I mean, did Arthur need to be an Aladdin-style “street rat”? No. Was it fun to basically have a brothel enforcer as the movie’s main character? Absolutely. I will admit that several of the characters aren’t much deeper than a “neat idea”, but they do enough to build an interesting version of the world.
The thing that I was uncertain about was how Ritchie was going to handle the visuals of an epic story like this. That’s where the pleasant surprise kicked in. For reference, I would say it’s kind of like 300 but without all of the cool art-effects on it, and made to look much colder and simpler. Even though that sounds like I’m discounting it, I’m really not. The opening battle scene and the final battle where they go into a different dimension were completely unexpected as to how wild they were.
The best effect of the movie is easily Arthur wielding Excalibur with two hands. It’s like someone using a barbaric bullet time. Completely unexpected and it’s something that I hadn’t seen done in exactly that way before. They manage to have the background slow down (ala Quicksilver scenes in the modern X-Men movies) but they don’t lose the ability to translate the idea that Arthur is still delivering crushing blows to people.
The downside is that, outside of a cool idea and some of the visual effects, there’s not much more to this movie. The plot doesn’t get much deeper than the premise that you’re presented with in the first 15-20 minutes of the movie. The relationships that people have don’t really grow or change after they meet each other because the story is just focused on Arthur building to the final confrontation with his uncle.
So, don’t go into this expecting anything epic. But, if you’re a fan of the Arthurian mythos, this could be an interesting watch just to see a different take on it.
King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (2017)
- The movie is a good time
- Has some very cool visual moments, especially when Arthur uses Excalibur
- Keeps the flare / flavor of a Guy Ritchie film
- Has the normal pitfalls of an aciton movie. Underdeveloped plot/characters, etc.
- takes a lot of liberties with the traditional mythology