King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

king-arthur-2017-rev King Arthur: Legend of the Sword  (2017)    Warner Bros./Fantasy-Action-Adventure    RT: 126 minutes    Rated PG-13 (sequences of violence and action, some suggestive content, brief strong language)    Director: Guy Ritchie    Screenplay: Guy Ritchie, Lionel Wigram and Joby Harold    Music: Daniel Pemberton    Cinematography: John Mathieson    Release date: May 12, 2017 (US)    Cast: Charlie Hunnam, Astrid Berges-Frisbey, Djimon Hounsou, Aidan Gillen, Jude Law, Eric Bana, Tom Wu, Freddie Fox, Craig McGinlay, Mikael Persbrandt, Lorraine Bruce, Hermione Corfield, Annabelle Wallis, Katie McGrath, Poppy Delevingne, Kingsley Ben-Adir, Neil Maskell, Millie Brady, David Beckham, Michael McElhatton, Kamil Lemieszewski. 

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 Guy Ritchie strikes again! He ruins yet another literary character be reimagining his story as a loud, incoherent 3D (if you’re so inclined) spectacle in which CGI easily overshadows plot and characters. This time the victim is King Arthur and a classic story of destiny, bravery and chivalry. The UK-born filmmaker, in effect, rewrites history with King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, a hopelessly convoluted chunk of crap that bears little resemblance to the tale best told in Sir Thomas Malory’s classic Le Morte d’Arthur which served as the basis for 1981’s Excalibur, still the definitive King Arthur movie. Ritchie, who co-wrote the screenplay with Lionel Wigram and Joby Harold, throws Merlin, Camelot, the Lady of the Lake, the Round Table and Excalibur (the sword) into the mix but it still doesn’t feel like King Arthur. Instead, it’s a mish-mash of Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, The Dark Knight, Oliver Twist, Moses, The Matrix, Highlander and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. They even lift a famous scene from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Add a heaping helping of anachronisms and you have King Arthur: Legend of the Sword.

king-arthur-2017 The short version is this: King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is an origin story. Every great hero has one. Not all of them are great. As a boy, Arthur witnesses his parents being murdered by his power-mad uncle Vortigern (Law, Sherlock Holmes) who usurps the throne occupied by his father Uther Pendragon (Bana, Troy), king of the Britons. He’s cast adrift in a boat to Londinium where’s he taken in and raised by prostitutes in a brothel. He grows up on the streets, learning to fight from a guy named Kung Fu George (Wu, Revolver) and saving every coin he gets his hands on. An incident with a group of Vikings under the protection of the king leads to Arthur (Hunnam, The Lost City of Z) fleeing his home. He’s caught by guards and put on a ship with hundreds of other men. It seems that a certain sword-in-the-stone has resurfaced and all the men of Arthur’s age are being forced to try and pull it out as it will reveal the true king. Of course, Arthur does it quite easily earning him a date with the executioner.

 Meanwhile, a rebellion is in the making. Now that the son of Uther has finally been found, it’s time to overthrow the pretender to the throne who got to where he is by sacrificing his wife to some evil eel-like creature that lives in a body of black water in the castle basement. Key figures in the uprising include a female sorceress- i.e. a “Mage” (Frisbey, I Origins), Uther’s former general Bedivere (Hounsou, Furious 7) and longbow ace Goosefat Bill Wilson (Gillen, Game of Thrones). Whenever Arthur holds Excalibur with both hands, he gets zapped and knocked unconscious by a burst of CGI energy. Since he’s The One (i.e. the true king), he must learn to control its power before he can wield it and take back his kingdom. First though, he has to confront the repressed memories of his father’s death. Once that’s done, Arthur and his band of merry men (oops, wrong legend) …. I mean, his future Knights of the Round Table can stage their attack.

 I didn’t mind Ritchie’s version of Sherlock Holmes too much. It wasn’t great but it wasn’t bad either. The 2011 sequel is another story. I had a bad feeling from the moment I first saw the trailer for King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. I could tell it would be a big clunky mess, a whole lot of sound and fury signifying nothing. I was right. This movie couldn’t have been worse if Michael Bay directed it (and I’m sure glad he didn’t). Giant alien robots are about the only thing missing from this confused and confusing mess of a sword-and-sorcery epic. It makes the cheapie S&S flicks from the 80s- e.g. Sorceress, The Warrior and the Sorceress and even Ator- seem better by comparison. At least they had a certain purity of form. The only pure thing about King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is how big a chunk of s--t it really is.

 Hunnam can’t act, plain and simple. He has the dashing good looks of a matinee idol and I can see him playing the same kinds of roles as Errol Flynn or Douglas Fairbanks Jr. Girls will see his movies so they can swoon. That’s all well and good. But if you look at him from the POV of a reviewer, his lack of acting skills is front and center. He’s as wooden as the trees in Sherwood Forest (oops, I did it again!). Oh well, at least he speaks with a real English accent unlike…. never mind. Frisbey is beautiful even under all that Goth makeup. Law makes an okay villain except for the fact he underplays it when he should go full tilt boogie evil. The rest of the cast tries their best but they look lost at sea in a movie that goes off the rails more than a cheap cut-rate railroad company.

 King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is all over the place. It’s never fun either. It wants to be but it fails spectacularly at that. It’s not even fun as a bad movie. It’s just bad. It’s as bad, if not worse, than First Knight (1995) and King Arthur (2004). Ritchie is at his best when he sticks with comedic British gangster flicks like Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998), Snatch (2001) and Revolver (2007). His remake of Swept Away (2002) is a wreck. His adaptation of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015) has a great retro look and little else. He ought to go back to doing what he does best.

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is a major assault on the senses too. It’s noisy. It’s too CGI-heavy. It places more importance on giant snakes, bats and elephants than story or character. It’s bad enough in 2D; I can only imagine the extra dimension makes it all the more unbearable. It sucks the life right out of the theater. What gets me most is that it’s not a faithful telling of the tale. Even Monty Python stayed close to the source when they sought the Holy Grail in 1975. King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is the worst movie of the year (so far). But don’t worry Guy, the summer just started; I’m sure somebody will outdo you by Labor Day. 

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