A sword and sorcery myth seems almost as unlikely a subject for Guy Ritchie as a certain romantic comedy he once directed. But unlike that effort, it only takes a few frames of King Arthur: Legend of the Sword to realize what brought Ritchie around to a reimagining of the English legend. This isn’t Arthur as we know him — surrounded by his mates Merlin and Lancelot and Guinevere and all the Knights of the Round Table. This is Arthur the scrappy upstart. The Arthur who was raised in a brothel and just wants to carve out an existence for himself. The Arthur who has no idea who he is, or that a sword in a stone will change his life.
And indeed, King Arthur fares the best when the focus is on storytelling and characterization, rather than epic action. We all know Charlie Hunnam has action chops, but King Arthur proves he has some comedic flare as well. While Jude Law chews the scenery as the unworthy usurper and murderous Vortigern, Hunnam casts a compelling figure as the street-wise and loyal Arthur. It’s a surprisingly strong performance in a picture that chooses to focus on action and showy battles above all else. The charm Hunnam brings to the character is most evident in sequences that play with the chronology of the picture. We’re occasionally treated to flashbacks and hypothetical flash-forwards punctuated by narration. And to see these moments, it is worth watching everything else — even action sequences that fall a bit too short on impact and stakes to remain interesting for long stretches.
If Warner Brothers decides to make a franchise of all of this, they have the bones of something that could be a genuinely great reimagining of the classic mythos. It’s take some trimming down, a bit more dynamism from the supporting characters (and ideally at least Guinevere to stand alongside Astrid Bergès-Frisbey as a woman who pulls equal weight in the narrative. For now, they have a pretty fun movie, that’s pretty decent — and as the history of King Arthur adaptations goes, that’s pretty good.