There have been many attempts at bringing the story of King Arthur to the big screen before. With films such as King Arthur (2004), Excalibur (1981), The Sword in the Stone (1963), it seems there is always room for exploring the legend of King Arthur in cinema. What King Arthur: Legend of the Sword has that the other adaptations don't is a modern sensibility, providing a spin on the classic legend for today's audiences.
In this incarnation of the classic legend, King Arthur (Charlie Hunnam) is unaware of his having any royal lineage. He simply knows a common life in the streets of Londinium. Things change for Arthur when he clasps his hands on the great sword Excaliber and withdraws it from the stone.
With the sword Excaliber now in his possession, Arthur sets out on a quest to defeat the wicked King Vortigern (Jude Law) from ruling over the land. Vortigern murdered both of his parents, including his father Uther Pendragon (Eric Bana). King Vortigern holds the most power but many forces are gathering their strength to oppose him with Arthur leading the way.
Arthur receives help on his quest from a magical mage Guinevere (Astrid Berges-Frisbey), who has special powers and abilities. Sir Bedivere (Djimon Hounsou) and some of the other knights contribute to helping Arthur's mission as he goes through training to have the abilities necessary to take down the corrupt king once and for all.
The film is different from many other incarnations of the King Arthur story. For one thing, the film is stylistically true to the work of its director, Guy Ritchie. It's an action-packed, fast paced, adrenaline-fueled experience. Those who have seen his other works (including Sherlock Holmes and Snatch) will have a pretty clear idea of the type of direction the film takes: fast-cuts, quick pacing, and plenty of action.
The film has a stronger fantasy element than is seen in some prior adaptations. This is one such adaptation which relies on the magical component of the storytelling. This version also focuses heavily on establishing the story of King Arthur. Though some of the other knights make brief appearances in the film, they are far from the focus (and not all of them even appear). Warner Bros. has planned this film as the start to a potential 6 film series. With the round table making an appearance at the end of the story its clear the studio hopes for a sequel and franchise.
From a production standpoint, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is superb with great production designs by Gemma Jackson (Game of Thrones). The world looks large and the canvas in which this story takes place certainly feels immersive. The set decorations by Tina Jones (Kick-Ass) add to this with a strong authenticity to detail.
The costumes designed by Annie Symons (Saving Grace) are a bit of a departure for this type of film while still maintaining enough of a similarity to other versions that the change isn't jarring. Then there's the special effects: the effects are absolutely breathtaking at times and certainly contribute to the excellent world building on display.
The music score by Daniel Pemberton (Steve Jobs, The Man From U.N.C.L.E.) is one of the best elements of the entire film. This is an exciting score that keeps the energy level high and it keeps good momentum. The score adds a great deal to the action sequences and helps make the film a more entertaining experience.
The cinematography by John Mathieson (Logan, Gladiator) impresses by giving the world a dark and foreboding atmosphere. This is possibly the grimmest looking world that King Arthur has ever been a part of. Even so, the cinematography fits the stylistic approach of the entire film perfectly.
The story for King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is by David Dobkin (R.I.P.D.) and Joby Harold (Awake).The screenplay was written by Joby Harold (Awake), Guy Ritchie (Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels), and Lionel Wigram (The Man From U.N.C.L.E.). The film is it's most fun when it's willing to use some humor and when it allows for some impressive action scenes, such as the climatic final battle.
Unfortunately, the story does become a bit convoluted at times and an audience member could easily become somewhat confused by events due to an uneven story. It jumps around a bit too much (in part due to Ritchie's directorial style) but this is something that could have been improved upon with a better script. The film will leave some scratching their heads with sequences that are laid out too quickly.
Despite a few reservations with regards to the story, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword excels as an exciting action-adventure film featuring great special effects, a fun cast (led by a surprisingly strong Charlie Hunnam), an exciting score, and ultra-fast direction by one of the maestros of making ultra-fast movies, Guy Ritchie. Though the film does have its flaws and diehard King Arthur fans will probably be upset by it (because it doesn't stick to the story flawlessly), most audiences will find it to be an entertaining, if uneven, experience.