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Saturday, 20 May 2017

King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword

(MA15+) ★½

Director: Guy Ritchie

Cast: Charlie Hunnam, Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey, Djimon Hounsou, Aidan Gillen, Jude Law, Eric Bana.

Much like Tarzan, filmmakers just can't leave King Arthur alone.

It's one of those old public domain stories that Hollywood types love to dig up, dust off and "re-imagine" every few years when bereft of anything new to contribute or when all the good franchises have been snapped up by other production companies.

And so it falls to Guy Ritchie to do the directorial legwork on this re-imagining, having re-imagined himself in recent years as a re-imaginer, doing wonders for Sherlock Holmes and The Man From UNCLE. 

Unfortunately Ritchie's return to form is over. This attempt to reboot the Round Table as some kind of all-conquering, thoroughly modern film saga is dead in the water.

Some parts of this version will be familiar - there's a sword in a stone, and a young Arthur extracts it on his way to reclaiming his rightful place as king of the Britons. But there is also the unfamiliar, such as giant battle elephants, kung-fu masters, and demon knights.

What appears on the screen looks part-computer game, part-Lord Of The Rings wannabe, part-scruffy Shakespeare for lads, part-Robin Hood-meets-The Matrix, and it's all blended together with a liberal dash of Ritchie's cockney crime background and way too much money. As such, it's a bloody mess.

It's obvious he's trying to do what he did to Sherlock Holmes, but where his hyperactive directorial tendencies were well suited to the mind of the world's greatest detective, here they get in the way of some potentially classic story telling and prove to be more annoying than interesting.

Ritchie is also lacking a super-talented frontman like Robert Downey Jr to make all this work. Hunnam's Arthur is unlikeable for so much of the film, and the actor can't save or spin the role into something roguish or entertaining. I'm still unconvinced about Hunnam's capabilities as a leading
man, having seen him be unremarkable in this, The Ledge, Pacific Rim and Crimson Peak

The film starts strong - in fact so strong that its opening sequences involving giant war elephants that seem to have wondered over from the Battle of Gondor can't be topped by anything else in the film. It then uses some very economical editing to set up Arthur and his back story, and everything is going really well for the first five or 10 minutes, but then you realise they're skipping bits just so the film can get bogged down in them later via countless tedious flashbacks, mystical visions and general chronology shenanigans, and it turns out it wasn't efficient storytelling but in fact the exact opposite. There's a lot of timeline jumping and flashbacking and flashforwarding and hypothetical imaginings, and the whole thing becomes utterly annoying.

There are so many issues with this film. It skips over the bit where Arthur supposedly truly earns Excalibur. It does a whole bunch of unnecessary bollocks during the final boss battle. It's humour falls flat, and it's lacking in heart. The score, while excellent, is distracting and doesn't fit in. And the aforementioned editing leaves a lot to be desired, so much so you can't help but wonder if there wasn't a better film left on the cutting room floor. 

One saving grace is Jude Law. As Arthur's evil uncle Vertigan, he is deliciously bad, yet somehow ends up being the most sympathetic character of the piece. He does horrible things, but makes incredible sacrifices for them and as result becomes the most intriguing player in this sad misfire.

At the end of this, Arthur builds his round table and knights his buddies, with an eye toward future movies. The fact Merlin, Guinevere, and Lancelot aren't in this also points to hopes of franchise. But that all looks incredibly unlikely. This King Arthur swings, misses its target, and cuts itself off at the knees.

Besides, Ritchie was doomed from the start. Everyone knows the definitive King Arthur story was made in 1975 by Monty Python.

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