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Here's what critics are saying about King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

Critical Mass: The first reviews of Charlie Hunnam’s bold take on the popular legend are here

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Guy Ritchie enlisted the rock star talents of Charlie Hunnam, Jude Law, Eric Bana, and Djimon Hounsou to bring his rollicking vision for the classic legend of King Arthur to life in his latest film, subtitled Legend of the Sword, which charts the titular folk hero’s rise to prominence. But, are critics willing to make the journey alongside the director’s stylized reimagining? As the first batch of reviews pour in, the answer is, well… not exactly.

“There are too many phony-looking special-effects sequences of giant marauding elephants and magical eel creatures to get to. It doesn’t matter if they don’t help the story; what seems to matter is that Ritchie had enough money at his disposal to conjure them, so why not spend it?” EW’s Chris Nashawaty writes in his C+ review. “Hunnam and his charismatic band of merry pranksters get lost in the sea of pixels. Which is a shame. Because King Arthur could have been a rollicking blast. Instead it’s just another wannabe blockbuster with too much flash and not enough soul.”

While Nashawaty notes the strength of Ritchie’s aesthetic impulses that drive the spectacle of this Knights of the Round Table origin story, Film Journal‘s Rebecca Pahle finds the film’s spectacular tone consistent with the director’s previous releases (which include Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch) though she admits sitting through a two-hour display of his signature style is often a test of patience, resulting in a film that’s “one part ’80s camp insanity, one part heist-movie fun and three parts generic fantasy.”

“The primary cause of King Arthur’s mediocrity is that, in attempting to make three movies at once, Ritchie and co-writers Joby Harold and Lionel Wigram forgot about the small matter of crafting compelling characters,” her review continues, taking issue with the rapid cutting at work on the picture. “I’m A-OK with any movie where someone summons a gigantic snake, and Guy Ritchie knows his way around a chase scene… It’s not so much that King Arthur is a terrible movie as it is a disappointing one that needed to pick one thing and double down on it. I’d also recommend cutting down on flashbacks. I didn’t keep track of the exact count, but my estimation is that Ritchie included one approximately every 30 seconds. Some things never change.”

IndieWire‘s David Ehrlich, who compares Legend of the Sword to Game of Thrones mixed with Snatch, admits he would have preferred more Ritchie-isms so the film could harness a refined identity.

“If it weren’t so boring, it would almost be impressive how fast — and how comprehensively — Ritchie and fellow screenwriters Lionel Wigram and Joby Harold are able to make a mess of things,” he notes. “If anything, the movie could have used more of an auteurist touch, more of the go-for-broke stylishness that recently allowed Ritchie to inject so much life into his under-appreciated The Man From U.N.C.L.E. reboot… It’s when things happen that it all goes to pot. The action sequences are mercifully few and far between, but they’re all drowned in godawful CG.”

Ahead of King Arthur: Legend of the Sword‘s May 12 theatrical bow, check out more review excerpts below.

Chris Nashawaty (EW):
“There are too many phony-looking special-effects sequences of giant marauding elephants and magical eel creatures to get to. It doesn’t matter if they don’t help the story; what seems to matter is that Ritchie had enough money at his disposal to conjure them, so why not spend it? Hunnam and his charismatic band of merry pranksters get lost in the sea of pixels. Which is a shame. Because King Arthur could have been a rollicking blast. Instead it’s just another wannabe blockbuster with too much flash and not enough soul.”

Peter Debruge (Variety):
“At least Hunnam has the potential to be the next Brad Pitt, having begun his career in a series of demanding acting roles — including a long run on FX’s Sons of Anarchy — before making the transition to blockbuster screen idol. He’s got presence, along with a sense of vulnerability that’s essential to the Arthur role, in which he plays a true-blood prince, orphaned by his uncle, raised in a brothel, educated on the streets, and thrust into the unlikely position of saving the kingdom. But Hunnam’s competing with so much ridiculous window-dressing here. It’s as if Ritchie, who began his career with the rowdy follow-that-shotgun caper Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, has once again tried to build an entire movie around the whereabouts of a rare weapon, when the legend of the sword isn’t nearly as interesting as that of the man who wields it.”

Rebecca Pahle (Film Journal):
“The primary cause of King Arthur’s mediocrity is that, in attempting to make three movies at once, Ritchie and co-writers Joby Harold and Lionel Wigram forgot about the small matter of crafting compelling characters. Arthur (Charlie Hunnam), here a streetwise orphan raised in a brothel, is the very picture of your boilerplate reluctant hero, only more petulant and unlikeable. Hunnam brings nothing to a nothing role. There’s no charisma. Jude Law fares only moderately better as Vortigern, the uncle who killed Arthur’s father and usurped his throne. A villain either needs to be complex or be played with scenery-gnashing intensity. Both are also acceptable. Vortigern is neither. He’s just…there, along with a heaping handful of unnecessary characters. Some of them die, but they’re too ill-defined to have gotten attached to, so who cares?”

David Ehrlich (IndieWire):
“If it weren’t so boring, it would almost be impressive how fast — and how comprehensively — Ritchie and fellow screenwriters Lionel Wigram and Joby Harold are able to make a mess of things. This is a movie that, despite boasting the most basic of all possible plots, makes it virtually impossible to understand what’s happening on a minute-to-minute basis. It’s as if Ritchie and co. felt that the simple familiarity of their story empowered them to tell it in the most needlessly flat and fractured way possible.”

Alonso Duralde (The Wrap):
“How much you enjoy the extreme-ification of the legend will depend on your tolerance for Ritchie’s mad garble of images… If you like Guy Ritchie in blam-blam-blam mode, then King Arthur will be your grail of mead; those who prefer his work on a film like The Man from UNCLE — which feels like My Dinner with Andre compared to the hyperkineticism on display here — may find that there’s too much ‘a lot’ in this Camelot.”

Todd McCarthy (The Hollywood Reporter): 
“From one moment to the next, it’s possible to on some level enjoy the shaking up of tired conventions in a swordplay fantasy such as this and then to be dismayed by the lowbrow vulgarity of what’s ended up onscreen. The film gives with one hand and takes away with the other, which can be frustrating in what’s meant to be an entertainment… After using visual effects to extensively create huge masses of armies and mayhem, the film suddenly resorts to a herky-jerky videogame approach in a climactic stand-off that looks quite lame in contrast to most of the action.”