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Nobody Seems to Like Guy Ritchie’s “Vulgar” King Arthur Movie

Hello and welcome to a round-up of reviews for Guy Ritchie’s take on our favorite Round Tablers, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. I’ve read dozens of reviews so you don’t have to! Ahead, Charlie Hunnam is hunky, Jude Law (literally?) chews the scenery, and Guy Ritchie should probably calm down a fair bit.

I have to admit that ever since I saw the first bombastic King Arthur trailer, I haven’t been too excited about this film. But I love a good Arthurian legend, so I was curious how Arthur & Co. would fair from the director of Sherlock Holmes and Snatch, even if it has felt like Ritchie’s stylistic quirks have worn thin. It seems he’s still up to many of the same Ritchian tricks.

As is his wont, Ritchie imagines Arthur as a rascally thief in cocknified “Londinium,” with Jude Law stepping into the villainous role of Arthur’s bad uncle Vortigern. Along the wild ride to his destiny claiming Excaliber, Arthur does such things as learn martial arts from his friend Chinese George (yes, really), defend prostitutes at the brothel where he grew up, and fight Law in a climactic battle where Law may or may not become some sort of giant snake creature.

The good: I’ve read a lot of praise for Charlie Hunnam’s muscles and his undeniable star power, and all accounts say that Law, cloaked in black, is enjoying his evil part and having fun. It sounds like there are some exciting action scenes and the scope of this movie is pretty broad. No one says it is a totally unwatchable mess, but at worst, a surprisingly dull Guy Ritchie’s Game of Thrones mishmash. The bad: I’ve seen way too many reviews that also equate the action with crappy video game scenes, call Ritchie trigger-happy with his trusted quick cuts and montages, and say the plot, characterizations, and visuals don’t gel as they should. (Rolling Stone sez: “a royal screw-up.”) I can add with confidence that King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is a movie I will one day watch on an airplane.

I laughed out loud at this summation from Ignatiy Vishnevetsky in The AV Club, who calls the film “a very special episode of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys.” So let’s start there, as we travel with giant elephants over perilous terrain filled with sexy mages to read excerpts of my favorite reviews (spoilers ahead!):

The AV Club:

“… a dull blockbuster that sends up dull blockbusters … The best and worst thing about his King Arthur is that it’s a complete mess—by turns a generic fantasy film in the house style of the Warner Bros. superhero movies (dingy lighting, noticeable re-cuts), and a nose-thumbing, mock-cockney-fied send-up of the same.

Arthur (Charlie Hunnam) grows into a Ritchie-esque small-time crook on the tough streets of “Londinium.” He operates out of the back of a brothel, socks Vikings, and pals around with buddies with names like Wet Stick (Kingsley Ben-Adir), Back Lack (Neil Maskell), and Chinese George (Tom Wu).

([the climactic showdown] is almost incomprehensible—the kind of thing that leads a critic to scrawl “giant snake?” in their notes.) It resembles nothing so much as a dysfunctional marriage between two films that can’t stand the sight of each other.

But there is the other, lugubrious King Arthur, a strained fantasy flick with pseudo-medieval production design that suggests a very special episode of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys about the evils of fascism, filmed on an overcast day.”

The Chicago Tribune:

“It stars Charlie Hunnam’s muscle mass and, secondarily, Charlie Hunnam as the bare-knuckled, head-butting brawler and “bastard son of a prostitute,” as he introduces himself at one point.

I’m no businessman, but plans for a six-film franchise may be optimistic. Optimism is nowhere to be found in Ritchie’s movie itself. It is a grim and stupid thing, from one of the world’s most successful mediocre filmmakers, and if Shakespeare’s King Lear were blogging today, he’d supply the blurb quote: “Nothing will come of nothing.”

The Hollywood Reporter:

“Loud, bombastic and thuddingly obvious, this is a vulgar movie for vulgar times.

From one moment to the next, it’s possible to on some level enjoy the shaking up of tired conventions in a swordplay fantasy such as this and then to be dismayed by the lowbrow vulgarity of what’s ended up onscreen. The film gives with one hand and takes away with the other, which can be frustrating in what’s meant to be entertainment.”

Slant Magazine:

“Ritchie is no stranger to rapid-fire montages, but the approach locks the film into the rhythms of one of his wisecracking crime movies, a pace ill-suited to a depiction of a time period we often associate with lumbering carts and soldiers weighed down by heavy armor.

Part of what makes characters truly mythical is how well they endure and adapt to changing times, but this Arthur is comically reduced to a follower of fads. He picks up martial arts from a Chinese friend, George (Tom Wu), drops cynical quips like a third-rate Snake Plissken, and even sports a hell of a fade haircut.

For all the attempts to update King Arthur to be cool and sexy, neither the character nor the film around him musters any spark.”

Consequence of Sound:

“There are some great trailers in King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, given that many of the film’s setpieces feel like individual trailers unto themselves. There’s King Arthur: Legend of the Fellowship of the Ring, King Arthur: Legend of the 300, King Arthur: Legend of the Deathly Hallows, King Arthur: Legend of the Princess Bride, and the list goes on. …

Unfortunately, the levity is scattered and tossed off between grand battles which all seem to take place in the uncanny valley, making it tough to appreciate what little color and spark there is.”


“Formulaic and dumb …King Arthur is guilty of many blockbuster sins critics have taken it upon themselves to call out over the last decade. And yet, seeing a version of them this derivative and dumb, with neither CGI grandeur nor a sense of fun on its side, is like a splash of cold water in the face, a reminder of how bad things can be when nobody cares.

But the film’s biggest problem is Ritchie’s twitchy edit finger, the perpetual enemy of silence and stillness. In particular, the heist-setup conceits are what ultimately unravel the film: After a certain number of scenes in which characters describe what they’re going to do intercut with scenes of them actually doing it, time goes out the window and we no longer know what we are watching. The film is boring, not because nothing happens, but because everything that does happen is put through a narrative blender.”

I still might watch this just to find out the secret of the giant snake. What about you?


Is that you, Jude Law?


(images: Warner Bros. via screengrab)

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Kaila is a lifelong New Yorker. She's written for io9, Gizmodo, New York Magazine, The Awl, Wired, Cosmopolitan, and once published a Harlequin novel you'll never find.