Verdict: All flash and no substance makes Jack a dull boy. The occasionally masterful visuals are worth a trip to the cheap seats at best. Otherwise, skip it.
The Good: Stunning visuals dominate, backed up by a percussive and driving score.
Let’s cut to the chase on this one: Legend of the Sword has some bonkers visuals. Director Guy Ritchie really went all-in with his $175M budget, and created some of the craziest action sequences in any modern blockbuster. They are rare, but present.
Beyond those visuals, the greatest thing about the movie was its driving score. Heavily percussive and breathy (think “I am a God” from Yeezus), it added to a general sense of “not your grandparents’ King Arthur movie.” The next song on the score should not be the thing you are most looking forward to in a movie, but hey there it is.
A few shout outs for acting: Aidan Gillen (Game of Thrones) and Astrid Bergès-Frisbey (Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides) were both wonderful, and deserve meatier roles than they were given.
Also, Jude Law makes an excellent smirky, angsty villain. Please give us more of that.
The Bad: The…everything that isn’t the visuals or the score.
No amount of visual splendor can make up for a disorganized plot and barely formed characters. That’s the case here, unfortunately. Legend of the Sword serves as the origin story of Arthur, Ritchie’s version of “medieval” England, and the Arthurian legend. By requiring so much set up (for what was supposed to be a six film franchise), each part feels gutted and wandering.
Charlie Hunnam’s Arthur is a great example of this lack of focus. He has two different origin stories, that of the rough-and-tumble British heartthrob, and again as the Arthur of legend. Yet neither of these origins set up his motivation for the rest of the film. Why he pursues the plot is a mystery. And he’s the most developed character of the film.
A common problem among modern superhero films is palpable here: there are far too many origin stories. Even the sword gets an origin bit, but not until halfway through the movie. It furthers a fundamental flaw: what is this story about? Arthur? Mage-Knight wars? Excalibur? It’s very unclear.
Distracting from the good visuals and the weak characters is the overuse of CGI. While it can serve a film if used correctly, in this case it comes off as an extended video game cutscene. The far too close camerawork during these sequences does nothing to help the constant jarred feeling.
The Ugly: When representation is not enough
On the surface, one could be forgiven for thinking Legend of the Sword was diverse. Astrid Bergès-Frisbey, Djimon Hounsou, Tom Wu, and Kingsley Ben-Adir provide a non-typical and welcome version of fantasy England. This is exactly how these movies should be casting.
Except that they are written as little more than bit parts. Tom Wu is the Chinese martial artist who runs a square full of brawlers because…reasons? Kingsley Ben-Adir is the ethnically ambiguous friend who pops in and out of the movie. Astrid Bergès-Frisbey is great in her role as “The Mage” (READ: “The Woman” of the movie), but has exactly no character. Who is she? Who knows. Djimon Hounsou is probably the best developed, but his character trait is to be the supporting character for whoever has the crown currently. All in all, it was a pile of wasted talent and opportunity, setting up a larger franchise that now may never come.
Synopsis: “Robbed of his royal lineage as a child when his uncle usurped the throne, Arthur (Charlie Hunnam) returns to the kingdom once ruled by his father and draws the legendary sword Excalibur from the stone. He must then learn to harness the sword’s power in order to lead a rebellion against the tyrannical Vortigern (Jude Law) and reclaim his birthright. Guy Ritchie directed this stylized retelling of the story of King Arthur, which co-stars Eric Bana, Astrid Bergès-Frisbey, Djimon Hounsou, and Aidan Gillen.” ~ Daniel Gelb, Rovi