Film review | King Arthur: Legend of the Sword: So crap it will melt steel

Though a maddening and turgid experience as a filmgoer, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is also something of a buffet for film critics • 1/5

teodor_reljic
Teodor Reljic
30 May 2017, 7:30am
Le morte parkour: Charlie Hunnam takes the lead in Guy Ritchie’s dismally misguided take on the Arthurian myth
Le morte parkour: Charlie Hunnam takes the lead in Guy Ritchie’s dismally misguided take on the Arthurian myth
“Guy Ritchie is making a King Arthur movie.”

“Why?”

This brief exchange between some friends pretty much reflects the world’s reaction to the news that Guy Ritchie – formerly something of a British neo-gangster movie trailblazer, latterly schlock-churner par excellance – had signed up to resurrect the legend of King Arthur to the big screen. 

Sure, any news of reboot/remake (or ‘re-imagining’) should hardly come as a surprise in this day and age, when the ‘safe blockbuster’ reigns supreme. 

But Ritchie in particular is the kind of director who made something of a trademark for himself with the amusing Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998) and Snatch (2000), which updated the ‘hard geezer’ populated British gangster movie genre for a new generation, with easier-and-breezier takes on these hyper-violent characters that went down a treat, at least for a little while. 

That is, until the formula went a little stale – round about the eminently floppable Revolver (2005) – and Ritchie retreated to simply opting for safe properties like Sherlock Holmes (the 2009 Robert Downey Jr take on the World’s Greatest Detective which spawned a 2011 sequel) and the entertaining piece of pap that was The Man from U.N.C.L.E (2016).  

So, a pattern emerges. And with the King Arthur enjoying a similar degree of sure-fire recognition and cultural ubiquity as the likes of Sherlock Holmes, the answer to that original “Why” becomes all the more easy to grasp. 

Our not-yet-King Arthur (Charlie Hunnam) is a kindly brothel-minder who is forced to pluck good old Excalibur from the fateful stone after the evil King Vortigern (Jude Law) rounds up all males of roundabout his age to attempt to do the deed... in the interest of discrediting and killing whoever actually manages to pull the legendary blade out. For you see, Vortigan is keenly aware that Arthur is the son of the true king – Vortigern’s brother Uther (Eric Bana), whom Vortigan has fratricide’d out of existence with the help of some dark magic – and that he will depose him if he returns. 

Overqualified: Jude Law
Overqualified: Jude Law
But Arthur is spared institutional decapitation thanks to the efforts of Uther’s former Knights, led by Sir Bedivere (Djimon Hounsou) and Sir William ‘Goosefat Bill’ Wilson (Aidan Gillen). They are, in turn, joined by a Mage (Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey) – a former follower of Uther’s magical mentor Merlin, who needs to goad Arthur into not refusing the overwhelming power that Excalibur offers him.

Where to begin? Though a maddening and turgid experience as a filmgoer, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is also something of a buffet for film critics. Because it’s not simply a tired re-tread of Arthurian schlock (a Hollywood sub-genre in its own right) and neither do its low-end fantasy trappings place it in the bad but nearly-passable category of recent, forgettable fare like the Clash of the Titans remake (2010) and Seventh Son (2014) – in which a cookie-cutter story is spruced up by really bad CGI. 

In fact, this is its own beast entirely: an attempt at high fantasy with Hamlet-like trappings that is also taps into Ritchie’s earliest back catalogue. 

But unlike his likeable fusing of two modes with the Sherlock Holmes films, here it all comes tumbling down like the fortresses that succumb to giant elephants in the films confused prologue. Clearly rushing through the stuff that should leave us with a sense of awe and wonder, Ritchie’s predilection for yapping characters telling ‘nested’ stories is not only confusing and annoying... it also robs key scenes of any dramatic impact.

Kudos to Jude Law for still putting in a strong performance in spite of everything, though. He could easily have hammed things up to high heaven – as high as the tower his clearly overcompensating character wants to build – but instead, goes for a Shakespearean blend of nuanced evil and power lust.  

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is the kind of film that happens when a writer-director believes themselves to be a strong-enough maverick to genre-hop with ease, but who in fact lacks the basic skills of stringing a proper fictional world together. Dismally structured and poorly edited, its lackluster special effects and threadbare script are the least of its problems. A display of ambition undone by poor effort across the board.

teodor_reljic
Teodor Reljic is MaltaToday's culture editor and film critic. He joined t...