WARNER BROS. PICTURES (2017)
Director: Guy Ritchie
Starring: Charlie Hunnam, Jude Law, Aidan Gillen, Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey, Djimon Hounsou, Eric Bana
“…there is NO way that I am fighting”
Words spoken by Arthur (Hunnam) moments before…fighting. This is a Guy Ritchie movie after all, and it wouldn’t be right to not have his signature humour oozing throughout. The mythical legend of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table return to the cinema, just not how you may remember them.
This time they’re pwopa geezas bruv.
An evil warlock known as Mordred (good name for a cat) attempts to take Camelot and overthrow King Uther Pendragon (Bana) in a blitz of fury, magic and giant elephants. Unfortunately for him, Uther is bad ass and beheads Mordred – the kingdom is safe and it’s time to rejoice. That is, until his treacherous brother Vortigern (Law) decides he fancies the crown for himself. Killing his own wife in order to summon a demon knight, Vortigern successfully slays Uther and his wife, however their young son is able to escape on a small boat and drift to Londinium where he is raised by a loving band of prostitutes. Years later, the now adult Arthur, is sent to Camelot, along with most British men, in order to try and pull an ancient sword from a stone and prove who the rightful heir to the throne is. After he is successful, Arthur retreats and bands up with a skilled underground group in order to overthrow the kingdom and take what is theirs.
A modern retelling of an age-old tale, the players in the game are re-imagined as toughened street rats and deceitful rulers where the good are the plucky underdogs and the villains the all-powerful forces. Smothered in CGI, the movie suffers from a complete lack of identity. It’s a blockbuster in every sense of the word, but the juddering shifts in tone and story derail this movie very quickly. At points throughout (quite a few in fact) I thought I was watching another Robin Hood movie. There’s plenty of Guy Ritchie weaved in – we get the quickly narrated flashbacks in present time, the facial close ups whilst running through alleys, snappy back and forth dialogue – but it feels generally out of place as the movie meanders on. That is occurs consistently for over two hours becomes numbing.
Leading as Arthur is Charlie Hunnam, a man always seemingly on the precipice of breaking through but never quite making it, and it’s no different here. He is actually decent throughout, handling the role admirably but always coming off as just a bit too nice to lead a revolution. Anything with Jude Law in usually piques my interest and his hammy baddy here is fun to watch, he is clearly enjoying playing this slimy, power crazed sadist. As hero and villain, the two never quite gel however. The cast of rogues are fine, but the laddishness doesn’t sit right – though Geoff Bell and Hunnam have a rematch from their past days in Green Street. Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey is reduced to hyper-serious, strangely out of place sorceress because Merlin was busy (probably a dodgy ruby, ya dig?).
David Beckham’s brief inclusion earns this movie some extra credit.
Mixing action, fantasy, coming of age and epic can only be achieved ‘realistically’ with CGI, and boy does Ritchie go to bed with the computer on this occasion. The vast landscapes are filled with mountains, castles and thousands of common folk going about their business, the action scenes are stuffed by CG elements and the majority of story beats are simply just…CGI. The Lady of the Lake is presented as a slivering, tentacled beast with three female bodies, one heavy and two slender – it looks…bizarre. There are huge elephants rampaging in battle, and at one point a massive snake turns up and eats everybody to pave the way for the final showdown, because…story. The final showdown, unsurprisingly, is Arthur vs a huge flaming skeleton demon set against a swirling Excalibur-led video game background. Where Lord of the Rings, for example, nailed fantasy action and CGI, King Arthur frankly doesn’t.
The movie never lets up in terms of pacing, it is all go from the start of the movie, yet somehow, somehow manages to feel like a drag. By the time the giant snake came out, I wasn’t sure whether to holler in childish delight or die. The need for quiet moments is evident here, to allow for character and story development and to level the movie out somewhat. Also, in terms of humour, it’s lacking which is surprising but not unexpected with how the movie panned out. The main moments of humour were the accents and child Arthur constantly being beaten.
The most annoying element is that with a finer eye towards direction and execution, this could have been a great movie. Crafting a medieval action epic with Ritchie’s signature roughness could have sparked something decent, but unfortunately all involved just fell on their sword.
Leave the legend in the past.
August 11th 2017