‘Legend of the Sword’ Gleefully Abuses Arthurian Legend

May 21, 2017

arthur

In the would-be franchise starter King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, director Guy Ritchie gets medieval on our collective asses by twisting Arthurian legend into a British caper film. Hunky Charlie Hunnam is our hero, Jude Law is the baddie, and the future Knights of the Round Table are portrayed as a gang of streetwise fixers from the mean streets of Londinium circa 573.

Critics are slamming the movie as a ridiculous attempt to transpose august mythology onto a laddish action picture. They’re not wrong, but they’re mad for the wrong reasons. The ridiculousness is the fun part. Legend of the Sword is chock-full of signature Guy Ritchie maneuvers—frantic montages, switchback time signatures, tough-guy dialogue—and it’s a kick to see Arthurian legend so gleefully abused. The effect is similar to watching radically updated Shakespeare. What’s the problem? Besides, as a visual stylist, Ritchie is genetically incapable of being boring. The film’s opening sequence will flip ya for real, as black-magic siege engines and colossal war elephants stomp Camelot. The mystical elements are creative and convincing, and the script provides some intriguing speculation about how that sword got stuck in that stone.

Spanish actress Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey is just this side of hypnotic as a persecuted sorceress, and Arthur’s motley crew functions as the medieval equivalent of a heist gang, complete with nicknames like Flatnose Mike and Goosefat Bill. The key is to embrace Ritchie’s goofball riffing and try to ignore the more egregious flourishes, like Jude Law’s designer jackets. Tune in to the film’s anachronistic wavelength and Legend of the Sword works just fine.

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