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REVIEW: Is ‘King Arthur: Legend of the Sword’ OK for kids & teens?

May 12th, 2017 / By: Michael Foust / comments

REVIEW: Is ‘King Arthur: Legend of the Sword’ OK for kids & teens?

Arthur grew up on the city streets in medieval England as the son of a prostitute, with little hope for the future.

Or so he thought.

Then one day the evil King Vortigern ordered the nation’s young men to line up and try to remove the mythical and supposedly magical Excalibur sword from a boulder, a seemingly impossible task since only a direct descendant of Vortigern’s brother, Uther, could do so.

One by one the region’s men fail to pull the sword from the stone, and one by one they are sent home. Arthur, though, is no ordinary subject of the king. When he touches the sword, its handle lights up, and when he grasps it with both hands, it begins to emit power. Soon, he is holding the sword over his head and his countrymen are left wondering: Who is this?    

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (PG-13) opens in theaters this weekend, giving us yet another film about the legendary king by spotlighting the one thing most people remember about the tale: Excalibur. The 2017 version stars Charlie Hunnam as Arthur and Jude Law as Vortigern, and is directed by Guy Ritchie, who is perhaps best known for his work on the film Sherlock Holmes (2009).

Historians still debate whether King Arthur ever even existed, and Hollywood’s infatuation with the legend is quite puzzling, since there are dozens of British kings throughout the centuries we know did exist and also have fascinating stories. (One example: King Alfred.) Of course, those other kings didn’t have a magical sword. And their kingship wasn’t stolen from them. And they weren’t friends with wizards and sorceresses—all of which is the case in the newest King Arthur.

Still, we have to ask: Is it family-friendly? Let’s take a look …

Warning: minor spoilers

The Good

Arthur is a fighter and rugged survivalist, but he nevertheless displays a great deal of humility throughout the film. “I’ve never had any power or any desire to achieve it,” he tells Vortigern. Later, when he sees his countrymen die in battle due to his possession of Excalibur, he tosses it into the ocean. This provides a stark contrast with Vortigern, who has killed many people to possess it. “When people fear you,” Vortigern says, it’s the “most intoxicating” feeling “a man can possess.” Arthur also protects the vulnerable, including a prostitute who is getting beaten.

The film carried a $175 million price tag, and it is evident on screen with backdrops and special effects that give it a genuine magical, Middle Age feel.  

The importance of family is upheld, first with Arthur when he has flashbacks to his parents and then later during a scene involving a little boy and one of Arthur’s companions.

The movie’s first 30 minutes were among the most confusing and dreadful half hours I’ve seen in a film, but it recovered quickly and sucked me into the plot.

The Bad

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword has no sexuality and only a handful of coarse words, but it earns its PG-13 rating with violent and disturbing content.

Twice, we see a man stab and kill a woman. We see a woman slapped (presumably a prostitute, who is dressed). We watch boys, teenagers and men involved in street fighting, and we see kids being bullied. There are multiple battle scenes with swords and arrows, although they remain largely bloodless compared to similar films. Finally, one scene includes a man cutting off another man’s ear and slitting his throat (which we don’t actually see). Throughout the two-hour film, we see hundreds of bodies.    

Disturbing scenes involve Arthur fighting a skull-faced (and scary-looking) creature and a sorceress character named The Mage, who is on Arthur’s side, going into a trance-like state so that she can magically turn animals into warriors. The most disturbing scenes revolve around Vortigern, who conducts human sacrifices and offers his victims to demon-like creatures that look a lot like giant eels with human faces. (Some of the eels are females who are essentially nude, although everything is covered.)

I counted seven coarse words: ba---rd (4), a-- (2), f-word (1).

Spiritual Content

In the real world, there were plenty of Middle Ages battles that involved religion, including Christian armies battling Vikings, but God is nevertheless absent from King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. This is a magical fantasy world (even if “the devil” is briefly mentioned.)

The Worldview

Moviegoers who walk into this film expecting a semi-historical tale will be disappointed. From the get-go, it’s apparent that sorcerers and sorceresses rule this kingdom, particularly when animals do their bidding. (They even can magically grow into giant animals!) God is never mentioned. (Arthur is told at one point: “Like it or not, this is your lot.”)

Still, Scripture’s warning against being lured by the “desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes” (1 John 2:12)—in this case the power of Excalibur—is evident throughout the movie.

The Verdict: Family-Friendly?

This one is quite violent and disturbing. Leave the kids at home. (They’d also likely be bored.) But it’s OK for most teens.

Discussion Questions

1. Did you think Arthur was humble? Were there moments when he was not? What other positive traits did he exhibit?

2. Why was Vortigern willing to go to such great lengths to capture Excalibur? What can we learn about temptation and the desire for power from his story?  

3. Compare and contrast Excalibur and the ring in The Lord of the Rings

4. What does Scripture teach about magic? What are we to think about films that have good and bad magic? What can we learn from such movies?

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, some suggestive content and brief strong language.

Entertainment rating: 2 out of 5 stars. Family-friendly rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars.