After Uther Pendragon (Eric Bana) saves his kingdom from evil sorcerer Mordred with Excalibur, his brother, Vortigern (Jude Law), betrays him, killing him and his wife as their young son drifts away on a boat. Years later, haunted by memories he doesn't fully understand, a handsome young man brought up by prostitutes and thieves is unveiled as the kingdom's true ruler in "King Arthur: Legend of the Sword."
Director Guy Ritchie began his career trying to emulate the kinetic style of "Trainspotting" in "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" and "Snatch," 'evolving' with the times by going backwards, 'modernizing' the Sherlock Holmes narrative visually while undercutting it dramatically. This time out he reaches back even farther to the legend of King Arthur, a story he once again feels the need to tamper with until it resembles a "300" styled comic book super hero origin story of the old tale.
The film's opening, featuring giant elephants(!), and its closing line - 'It's a table. You sit at it.' - pretty much tells you what you all you need to know. As cowritten with Joby Harold and "Sherlock Holmes's" Lionel Wigram, Ritchie wants to play in his early sandbox of street thugs while whipping up blockbuster visuals more suited to a video game adaptation. Story coherence suffers as we try to keep Arthur's Londinium connections separate from such characters as Bedivere (Djimon Hounsou, "In America," "Furious 7"), resisting in the land of Vortigern.
After the young Arthur is found on the Thames, we meet the adult (Charlie Hunnam, "The Lost City of Z") still living in the brothel with the prostitutes who took him in. He attracts attention attacking Viking leader Greybeard (Mikael Persbrandt), who has just made a child slavery deal with Vortigern, for having beaten Lucy, one of the prostitutes under Arthur's protection. Captured by Vortigern's Blacklegs, Arthur is sent to Camelot, where all adults must attempt to pull Excaliber from a stone, receiving a tattooed mark upon their failure. When Arthur does not fail, he is set for execution, but one of Merlin's Mages (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey, "I Origins") summons a hawk to interfere, allowing Arthur to escape with his sword. The reluctant hero must face his past in order to determine the future of his kingdom.
Hunnam is fine in the lead, as are several in support, most notably Aidan Gillen ("The Lovers") as 'Goosefat' Bill, the sharpshooting/sniper equivalent of an archer, Neil Maskell ("Kill List") as Arthur's partner-in-crime Back Lack and Bleu Landau as Back Lack's son Blue. Law, who has been on quite the roll from "Dom Hemingway" through HBO's 'The Young Pope,' plays the villainous Vortigern as a man who thrives on fear yet suffers its consequences himself.
But "King Arthur" is such a cultural mishmash (George (Tom Wu) the kung-fu master! A Syren that looks like "The Little Mermaid's" Ursula!) that it loses all distinction. There's too much computer generated imagery, including the unconvincing hordes of extras around Vortigern's castle. Annie Symons's costume design leans more to the fantastical (Vortigern sports metal hawk epaulettes, his gloves giving him the appearance of an evil cyborg) than period. Daniel Pemberton's (Ritchie's "The Man from U.N.C.L.E.") imaginative music, an edgy rock score using ancient instruments, is one of the film's best elements, but too loud in the mix.
There is one scene, where The Mage encourages Arthur to face his demons in order to master Excalibur, that hints at what could have been. Sadly, moments like these are too few and far between.
Robin did not see this film.
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