You’ve heard of the video game curse, yes? You know, the one where the vast majority of films based off video games fail. Well, if that’s a curse, then there surely is an Arthurian curse as well, because most films featuring him or his knights keep failing.
Take Antoine Fuqua’s King Arthur (2004) for example. It had a star-studded cast featuring Clive Owen, Keira Knightley (who was riding high on her Pirates of the Caribbean success), Mads Mikkelsen, Ioan Gruffudd, and Joel Edgerton. It also had a modestly priced budget of $120 million. Antoine Fuqua was fresh off his Training Day hype train. Hans Zimmer scored the movie. And it was a new take on a story familiar to so many.
Yet, despite all the right ingredients, the film failed, earning just $203.6 million at the box office (on a $120 million budget) and sporting a rotten 31% on Rotten Tomatoes from critics.
Could it have failed because it was just a bad film and word of mouth killed it? Are audiences just not that interested in seeing new iterations of this age-old story? Who knows.
So when King Arthur: Legend of the Sword was announced to be in development, I immediately felt nervous for its box-office chances.
Same Story. Different Stone.
You know how you can watch a trailer for a movie, and although you personally feel intrigued by it, you just know it’s going to flop? That’s exactly how I felt watching this first trailer for Legend of the Sword.
I was extremely excited to see the film but knew interest in a extremely fantastical take on the Arthurian legend would be low. Sadly, I was right. The movie made just $148.7 million worldwide on a budget of $175 million, effectively making it another Arthurian flop and further cementing the idea of a Camelot Curse.
Despite being directed by a talented and popular director like Guy Ritchie, and featuring a cast that includes Charlie Hunnam, Jude Law, Djimon Honsou, and Eric Bana, the film just never found its footing with audiences and the writers missed their mark with the story, according to the critics.
Well, I’m here to tell you that this film definitely deserves a second chance, or first chance if you’ve completely skipped out on it all together.
The film landscape today is mostly superheroes (which I also love), sequels, prequels, remakes or reboots. It is a lot of the same stuff over and over again. While another film about King Arthur could definitely be considered a remake or reboot, it’s still an amazing story with a ton of potential, if audiences would ever allow the story to progress further than just the first film.
Different Movies Don’t Always Mean Same Stories
Now, I may be a little biased here because I’m a huge Charlie Hunnam fan. Sons of Anarchy is one of my top three favorite TV shows of all time, and Hunnam plays probably my favorite television character ever in Jax Teller. Anything Hunnam is in, you can guarantee I’m going to watch (and will probably love) it.
With swagger that is almost infectious, Hunnam’s presence on screen allows him to completely own every second of every minute he’s on camera. This is no different in Legend of the Sword.
The film is largely entertaining because of Hunnam. He plays Arthur with this extreme sense of arrogance and swagger. So much so that you either think he’s kind of a douche, but one you don’t mind cheering for, or you’re going to absolutely love him in this film.
In this version of the film, Arthur is sent away from the castle at a very young age as his family is murdered by his usurper uncle, Vortigern (Jude Law). As an orphan, Arthur is raised by prostitutes and quickly picks up survival skills hustling on the streets and becoming the body guard/manager for the girls that raised him.
He is well known–and feared–around Londinium, from which his cockiness comes. He built his way up from nothing, became very skilled at combat, and is very intelligent. There is no doubt to his self-belief, to the point he believes himself to be untouchable.
That all changes once Arthur is revealed to be the rightful heir to the throne.
The sword reveals itself and Arthur pulls it from the stone. Vortigern was going to have him executed but Arthur is saved by the resistance. Once with the resistance, Arthur learns from the Mage (Àstrid Berges-Frisbey), who was sent by Merlin, how to control the power of the sword. When Arthur touches the sword, a surge of power flows through him. The catch is him being wildly unsuccessful in controlling that power. In fact, he faints on each attempt.
Same Sword. Very Different Tale.
How the film portrays the usage and the actual powers of the sword, Excalibur, is incredibly unique and absolutely one of the key highlights of the film. When Arthur learns to control the power of Excalibur, he is so imbued with power that he actually slows time down for everything else around him while he is still able to move at normal (if not quicker) speed. The sword itself also gives Arthur enhanced strength and speed.
With enhanced strength and speed, Arthur uses this sword, whether its fighting henchman or Vortigern himself, in action sequences that are second to none. Everyone should see this film for the action alone. At one point in the film, we see Arthur take down roughly 30-40 guys on his own.
All of the action sequences definitely have that “Guy Ritchie” signature style and feel to them, which can only be viewed as a positive because he’s one of the best action directors around.
The film definitely ups the ante in the fantasy department as well. I mean, the sword has the ability to slow time and grant superhuman strength and speed.
On top of that, there is a fair amount of sorcery and witch craft, as well as some fantastical creatures (like giant elephants) throughout this film. To add to the fantasy, Vortigern, a warlock himself, sacrificed his wife to a mythical creature that in turn granted him supernatural powers. These powers allowed him to defeat Arthur’s father (Eric Bana) who was King and the first user of Excalibur, when Arthur was a child.
The fantasy elements definitely add to the story in my opinion. It gives us a fresh take on the Arthurian Legend. A lot of re-tellings of this story try to make it very realistic and grounded, but the legend is about a sword that grants powers and a wizard named Merlin. Telling this story should embrace the fantastical as Legend of the Sword does here. If not for the story, then do it at least for the visuals, because those fantasy elements made for some truly mind-blowing visual effects in this film.
Getting Back to the Basics
The dialogue in the film, while a bit cheesy at times, is never cringe-worthy or boring. In fact, the back-and-forth between Arthur and all his friends is one of the big positives of the film. There are moments in the film where they are all telling stories, which are essentially shot as flashbacks, and the dialogue is absolutely brilliant. The movie is told at such a quick pace that the dialogue flows without ever stopping. The stories themselves end up being one of the more entertaining and humorous parts about the film.
The villain and his henchman predictably have some cheesy dialogue, but overall, Jude Law does a fine job as the antagonist. He’s menacing and intense, but also delivers an emotional performance. You never feel bad for him though, not even as he sacrifices his wife and daughter so that he can gain power. He comes off as a scorned, jealous, and entitled little brother who threw a fit that he didn’t get what he wanted. Law did a great job at ensuring the audience hated his character.
Lastly, the soundtrack. My lord, what a soundtrack. Produced and scored by Daniel Pemberton, the music selections are absolutely incredible. Each musical piece played not only fit with the scenes, but enhanced them all as well. I’m not even going to lie, the music during the action scenes really had me hyped while watching. If you’re really into film scores, Legend of the Sword has an amazing one.
It’s unfortunate that the film wasn’t better received or more successful at the box office. Even more so, the original plan before the film’s release was to make into at least a five-movie franchise. It was definitely teased at the end that there were plans in place to take the story even further. At the end of the film, after defeating Vortigern and being declared King, Arthur builds a circular table and declared that it will be his “round table.”
That was definitely a set up for a sequel. The odds of that happening appear to be next to none however. This was another franchise that had significant potential that was killed early due to lack of interest. Are people just not interested in this story? Or have none of the re-tellings been up to audience standards?
Regardless of the answer to that question, I truly and honestly believe that King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is one of the most underrated films of all time. That’s a hill that I will gladly die on. It’s not a great film by any means, but it’s a lot better than it was given credit for and I think a lot of the people that never gave it a chance would actually enjoy it if they saw it.