Thursday, 7 September 2017

Review #1,243: 'King Arthur: Legend of the Sword' (2017)

Guy Ritchie may just one of the luckiest film directors in history. After making his name with Cockney gangster movies Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, he released a double-bill of stinkers so bad that even the utterance of their titles provokes sniggers. Swept Away and Revolver almost killed the career of the Brit before it truly took off, with his highly publicised relationship to Madonna proving far more interesting to the tabloids than any of his desperate output. He returned to his roots with RocknRolla, a motor-mouthed crime comedy which, although sitting well within his comfort zone, was good enough to remind us of why we liked him in the first place. Since then, he's found big-budget success with the Sherlock Holmes films and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (although the latter tanked at the box-office, it was generally warmly received by those who saw it), and has been handed the keys to his very own franchise, the eternally rebootable story of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table.

It's unclear just how much more input Ritchie will have on this new take on Arthurian legend, as he has just started production on Disney's live-action remake of Aladdin, starring Will Smith as the genie. That, combined with the box-office failure of King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, would surely suggest that this series was dead on arrival, or at least will see it taken in a new direction by Warner Bros., who had been trying to get something off the ground ever since the more grounded 2004 version starring Clive Owen. If this is true, then thank the cinema gods, as this annoying, sickly and exposition-heavy turkey was never going to interest a new generation of cinema-goers in a legend that has fascinated many for years. It trips up during its very first moments, as giant, CGI elephants knock down CGI buildings and send CGI people to their death, removing all the elements that make this old-fashioned myth so endearing by employing a contemporary attitude. Haircuts, fashion and dialogue all fit Ritchie's lad's mag aesthetic.

Everything needs to be big and shiny, and King Arthur opens with a set-piece most movies would choose to climax with. King Uther Pendragon (Eric Bana) is locked in a war with warlock Mordred and an army of mages, with the kingdom of Camelot under threat from their magic. Assisted by his magical sword Excalibur, the King triumphs, only to be betrayed by his evil, pampered brother Vortigern (Jude Law), who arranges a coup to usurp the throne. Only Uther's son Arthur escapes with his life, pushed down a river to be raised by prostitutes in, as you would guess from a Ritchie film, Londinium. He grows up to look like Charlie Hunnam and practises hand-to-hand combat. He also dabbles in petty theft with a small gang of cheeky chappies while unaware of his true heritage. When Uther's sword reappears stuck in a rock near the castle's ground, Vortigern rounds up all the men in the nearby areas to attempt to pull it free. He who succeeds is the true heir to the throne, and therefore destined for the chopping block.

This all sounds like a classic hero's journey set within the medieval fantasy genre, but Ritchie is so intent of shoving modern-day sensibilities down your throat that it's easy to quickly forget the true essence of the story. There are endless visual gags involving a story narrated in the present while we flash back to the actual event, a gimmick employed by Ritchie many times before (but was done far better in Ant-Man), and an abundance of camera-swirling action scenes that resemble a video game cutaway scene. At times, it is the cinematic equivalent of that G-force ride at the fairground, in that you cling to whatever you can and hope it ends before you vomit. At the centre of it all is Hunnam, who follows his turn in Pacific Rim with another charisma-free performance. He is drawn as a tough- working-class hero who would be more comfortable in a pub brawl than ruling a country, but comes across as the kind of meat head seen on a night out starting fights while others insist he's a good guy really. A dick head with a magical sword and royal blood is still a dick head. Many of its flaws could be forgiven were it not such a massive bore. Instead, this will likely induce a headache more than any sense of wonder.

Directed by: Guy Ritchie
Starring: Charlie Hunnam, Astrid Berg├Ęs-Frisbey, Jude Law, Djimon Hounsou, Eric Bana, Aidan Gillen, Neil Maskell, Annabelle Wallis
Country: USA

Rating: **

Tom Gillespie

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (2017) on IMDb

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