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Movie Review

To paraphrase Kermit, it's not easy being king.

Just ask Vortigern, proud monarch of the ancient British Isles. I mean, it took him some time just to become king—what with his annoyingly do-gooding brother, Uther Pendragon, being the rightful ruler and all.

Uther's heroism and handy magic sword, Excalibur, certainly didn't make bumping the guy off any easier, either: It took a hulking death demon to finally do the deed, violently sending Uther to the great beyond. And even that didn't go as smoothly as Vortigern would've liked. Excalibur was lost in the fight, sinking down to the briny depths. And Uther's young son, Arthur, was lost, too. Not killed, but lost. The 2-year-old prince hopped on a boat and floated away before Vortigern could snap him up and snap him in two, a fate that would've ended Uther's kingly line forever.

But hey, how far can a 2-year-old get on a boat, right?

So Vortigern, newly crowned king, turns his attention to other matters—namely purging Britain of its mages, repressing its people, selling its children into slavery and turning the isles themselves in to barren, charred wastelands. It's all about keeping up with the Saurons, after all.

Oh, and he also has a massive magic tower to build. Once the final black stone is in place, he'll be, like, really powerful, in some mystical-yet-indeterminate way.

Yes, being king, what with its litany of duties and its occasional human sacrifice, is just work, work, work.

But as if Vortigern didn't have enough on his to-do list, the water mysteriously drains around the castle, revealing the long-lost sword of Excalibur—firmly stuck in a stone. The British peons—er, people—begin whispering that the sword belongs to the true king. If only someone could pluck the blade from that chunk of magical granite, things would get a bit better.

What? Vortigern gasps. Don't these miserable little—er, I mean, dutiful subjects appreciate all the work that I've done on their behalf? Are you saying they don't appreciate my gentle threats and beatings? Clearly, I'll have to, um, encourage loyalty a little more … fiercely.

Then he turns his attention to Arthur. Uther's young son must be in his 20s by now, Vortigern realizes. And he's the only one who can free and use the sword.

Best to force every young man in the kingdom to try to pull the sword out, the king figures: Those who try and fail are free to go. Why, he'll even give them a free brand on their hand as a parting gift. And the one who succeeds? Why, Vortigern will give that young man a very, very special gift: an opportunity to reunite with his father and mother in the hereafter. Oh, sure, getting to that reunion might be a little … painful. But the best things always are, aren't they?

Now, where did he put that hulking demon of death again?

Positive Elements

Arthur showcases many admirable character traits. First, he demonstrates his loyalty to the women who raised him—protecting them from men who would physically abuse them. Arthur cares for many who cross his path—even would-be enemies. As he says, "Why have enemies when you can have friends?" And you get the sense, eventually, that he wants his people to have a better ruler.

Still, Arthur's reluctant to pick up the mantle of becoming Britain's savior. Doing so will mean not only significant risk, but facing his long-buried memories and psychological demons. It's understandable, as a mage tells him at one point. "I look away [from these fears]," she says. "We all look away. But that is the difference between a man and a king." Eventually, Arthur does act in kingly fashion, facing his terrifying memories to fully embrace his role as Britain's true protector.

Many others perform valiantly in Arthur's service too, often risking their own lives to protect his.

Spiritual Content

Arthurian legends have always been imbued with magic, and this CGI spectacle may push the mysticism quotient up a rung or two from there.

We're told from the get-go that "men and mages" lived in peace for centuries before an evil mage named Mordred stirred up those wizards and declared war on mankind. A mage also helps Arthur in his quest to reclaim the throne, showing an ability to control and even (it seems) conjure animals. All of this suggests that mages are a different species from regular ol' folks like Arthur and Vortigern.

But the film also suggests that mortal men can become magical, or wield magic, under certain conditions: Vortigern's tower seems to infuse him at least temporarily with some magical abilities. And Arthur's sword, Excalibur, is clearly enchanted in its own right. (We hear that the sword was formed from a mage staff.)

We see mythological creatures, including dryads (wood spirits) and the quasi-angelic Lady of the Lake. A demonic warrior—a pumped-up medieval depiction of death (complete with an exposed skull and a scythe-like weapon) is conjured using the darkest of dark magic.

There's a reference to hell. Arthur "blesses" one of his enemies. There are several references to the world needing to be in "balance," an understanding that suggests Eastern spirituality. Arthur goes to the "darklands," a place perhaps more spiritual than physical. He gets there by pressing a stone into a kind of altar; when he returns from that realm, the film suggests that he didn't physically move at all.

The film also contains scads of religious allusions (accidental or intended) to Christian and pagan stories. For example, graffiti scrawled across walls (representing Arthur's fledgling rebellion) can be interpreted in multiple ways. Essentially a circle topped with a cross, it looks quite literally like a sword stuck in a circular stone. But it also resembles the pagan symbol for Venus (and, by extension, women) turned upside down. The cross-topped orb is also a traditional symbol of medieval monarchy that symbolizes Christ's supremacy over the world.

Sexual Content

Vortigern parlays with a massive, tentacled monster that's made partly of naked women. The women's critical parts are obscured by either tentacles or water, but we do see the side of one's breast. Similarly, the dryads we see are naked (albeit barky) female forms embracing or attached to trees.

When Arthur is very young, he's discovered by a bevy of prostitutes, who take him in and raise him. (He believes that he was the son of one of them.) We don't see the women engaged in any overt sexual activity, but they do wear garb that sometimes falls off their shoulders and showcases cleavage. Arthur becomes a sort of caretaker for the women in the brothel, protecting them at times from violent ruffians. When the brothel is raided by soldiers, one man tries to make trouble with Arthur, telling his superior that Arthur touched him. The man tells the soldier that he should consider himself lucky: "Most people [here] need to pay for that."

Arthur is attracted to the female mage who comes to his aid. He asks her, "Are you falling for me like I'm falling for you?" In response, the mage causes the horse carrying Arthur to buck him off.

Violent Content

But there's far more violence than horse bucking, naturally. The body count has got to be at least in the hundreds here.

Anonymous soldiers perish by the score. Some get vaporized by blasts of magic, or hewn through (largely bloodlessly) by swords. They're also done in by arrow strikes, sword blows and dramatic falls into deep canyons. One woman is skewered by a large spear (which flies straight through her). A man is impaled on a scythe. Women are stabbed in the back as part of a heinous sacrifice: The corpse of one is claimed by a slithering, perhaps demonic monster. Massive—and I mean massive—elephants swipe the ground and crush people with their trunks and feet. A huge snake gobbles up several victims. Another, normal-sized snake bites someone.

Animals suffer plenty, too. Arthur fights with huge rats. Gigantic bats carry Arthur around and squabble with each other, with one getting consumed by a very sizable snake. Another snake is cut in two, splashing blood on the killer. A horse is purposefully driven to its doom.

Several people receive and nurse bloody, painful wounds. One man has his ear sliced off before his throat is cut. (We don't explicitly see either slash up close.) Someone's hit painfully in the thigh with arrows. The sword's great power knocks Arthur out. Elsewhere, he beats up several people, leaving their faces bloodied. One unfortunate gets turned to stone. Corpses are strewn about a hideout. Someone else nearly has his head chopped off. Arthur grows up fighting and training under the tutelage of a kung fu master, and we see Arthur beat—and get beaten—plenty.

In a montage, Arthur walks in on several men raising their hands to strike prostitutes; once he's old enough, he grabs the fist of an assailant and puts a stop to it. Later, we see one prostitute with multiple cuts and bruises caused by her last customer.

Crude or Profane Language

One f-word is explicitly uttered. Another person seems to inaudibly mouth that profanity. The s-word is used once. The British vulgarity "b--locks" is uttered thrice. We also hear "a--," "b--tard" and "p-ss" a handful of times. God's name is misused once.

Drug and Alcohol Content

A snake bites Arthur, and its venom either acts as a hallucinogen or a conduit to seeing the world in all its magical essence.

Other Negative Elements

Before he crosses swords with Vortigern, Arthur fosters his own vaguely criminal network. As a child, he steals money and gambles. As an adult, he heads some sort of smuggling ring.

Vortigern is selling Britain's children—boys under the age of 12, mostly—to the Vikings. We hear of such dealings and, once or twice, see kids in cages, ready to be shipped off into slavery.

Conclusion

Arthurian tales are pretty malleable. While some believe the medieval monarch might've been a real king or warlord, each literary era embellishes his legend in its own way. The stories told in the eighth century look much different than those told in the 12th, and both might look a bit unfamiliar to Arthurian fans from the 19th. Or the 21st, for that matter.

So if director Guy Ritchie wants to stick 300-foot-tall war elephants in ancient Britain, who are we to begrudge him? No, from a Plugged In perspective, we've got other grudges to, er, grind.

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword spoils itself in its very own title. Arthur isn't actually the king for most of the movie, and to become one takes a great deal of swashbuckling heroism and sacrifice (especially on the part of his lackeys).

But it also requires, in this Ritchie creation, a staggering fatality count, some rather ticklish spiritual elements and a few nearly naked tentacle women. The Arthurian story gets stripped of most of its traditional Christian trappings and is instead enveloped by impressive, but mostly meaningless, CGI spectacle. Try to describe the film five minutes after you see it, and it might come out something like, "It's cool." Describe it 30 minutes after, and it becomes an incoherent, "Whaaa…?"

In another, relatively modern, Arthurian story, King Arthur himself sings of his wondrous, mythical home.

Don't let it be forgot
That once there was a spot
For one brief shining moment that was known
As Camelot.

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is a passable, if still problematic, diversion. But it's not Camelot. Not even close.

Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

Authority Roles

Profanity/Violence

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews

Content Caution

Kids
Teens
Adults

Credits

Rating

PG-13

Readability Age Range

Author

Cast

Charlie Hunnam as Arthur; Astrid Bergès-Frisbey as The Mage; Jude Law as Vortigern; Djimon Hounsou as Bedivere; Eric Bana as Uther; Aidan Gillen as Bill; Freddie Fox as Rubio; Craig McGinlay as Percival; Tom Wu as George; Kingsley Ben-Adir as Wet Stick; Neil Maskell as Back Lack

Director

Guy Ritchie ( )

Distributor

Warner Bros.

Network

Performance

Record Label

Platform

Publisher

In Theaters

May 12, 2017

On Video

August 8, 2017

Year Published

Awards

Reviewer

Paul Asay

We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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