It’s unceremoniously tanked in the States, so what kind of reception can Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword expect as it arrives this week?
Do you know your Uther Pendragons from your Mordred’s? If King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword is anything to go by, director Guy Ritchie certainly doesn’t. Not that it’s prevented him from making his version of how Arthur pulled Excaliber out of the stone and became King of fledgeling England.
That bit he gets right – pulling the sword out of the stone – but the rest of the film plays fast and loose with the popular legend. Here, the young Arthur sees his father, King Uther Pendragon (Eric Bana) killed before his eyes but manages to escape to Londinium, where he’s brought up in a brothel and learns the ways of the street. Meanwhile, his uncle Vortigern (Jude Law) is ruling the kingdom with a rod of iron, but constantly looking over his shoulder in case the true king returns. The adult Arthur (Charlie Hunnam) is among the queue to try his hand at pulling the sword out of the stone. Unlike everybody else, he does it – which brings him head to head with Vortigen, even though he’s reluctant to admit that he’s the rightful king. But he has a band of supporters and a female sorceress to support him – and change his mind.
We’re all used to Ritchie’s style by now – snappy editing, quick fire humour and the occasional – or not so occasional – geezer. But in medieval England? Nah! It just doesn’t belong in this context – unless, of course, the plan was to make a comedy and that didn’t seem to be his intention – and just doesn’t fit the context or the characters. He’s also placed way too much emphasis on CGI. True, there are some spectacular scenes, but they’re all heaped on top of each other and so conspicuously created by a computer that they eventually merge into much of a muchness. Plus there’s so many of them, there’s just a vague whiff of an attempt to cover up the film’s other shortcomings. Like the pounding score, which just gives you a headache.
Earlier on, 2017 was shaping up to be the Year Of Charlie Hunnam. In The Lost City Of Z he gave a good performance in an even better film, but this time round we’re treated to all his weaknesses. His Arthur is remarkably uncharismatic – how he manages to gather a band of followers around him goodness only knows – and he’s definitely not cut out to be an action hero. The costume department hasn’t done him any favours either, cladding him in what looks like a medieval Chanel jacket in a certain shade of cream that hardly shows the dirt. There are plenty more incongruities like that, but let’s not dwell on them. Jude Law doesn’t fare much better as his villainous uncle, giving us a pantomime villain of a performance minus the twirling moustache.
There’s a large chunk of the film when it seems that Ritchie is mixing up two legends, the result being Arthur Hood And His Merry Knights, as the would-be king goes into battle against the usurper. By this time the now much-ridiculed David Beckham cameo – cue much giggling in the audience – has come and gone and Ritchie himself has even put in a brief appearance. But there’s still more to come to fill up the two hours. More battles, more sorcery, more CGI …… and an appearance by the Lady Of The Lake – or, as she was described in another, way more entertaining version of the legend, the “watery bint.” Where’s the Monty Python crew when you need them?
Before the film came out, Ritchie was already talking about follow ups, but things have suddenly gone quiet on that front. The real tragedy about this is that the King Arthur legend has always been the gift that keeps on giving to filmmakers, so making such trite hash of it says a lot about the director and how he’s approached the film. And none of it is complimentary.