With funny, street smart, cartoonishly violent gangster movies like Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch Guy Ritchie was, in the 1990’s, being touted as Britain’s answer to Quentin Tarantino. Unfortunately, his recent, confusingly-plotted, over-the-top, near-indigestible offerings such as the Sherlock Holmes movies and the irritating Rock’n’Rolla have seen him become more like Britain’s answer to Michael Bay. Consequently, the idea of him re-working a revered legend such as the King Arthur story was disconcerting to say the least. While some viewers will enjoy this utterly outrageous film’s excesses, many will find it near unwatchable.
Admittedly, it has a very impressive opening sequence in which the evil Vortigern (Jude Law) aided by the wizard Mordred and an army of giant elephants, lays siege to his brother Uther Pendragon’s castle. During this siege the baby Arthur is spirted away to Londinium. Here action, music and special effects dovetail for powerful and exciting set piece…then, the rot sets in.
Ritchie largely ignores the Arthurian mythology as he attempts to stuff the characters into a medieval version of his British gangster flicks. Arthur’s (Charlie Hunnam) path to adulthood is depicted in one of (way too) many vertigo-inducing hyper-speed montages as he becomes a Londinium street kid learning to scam, steal and fight. He transforms into a kind of urban Robin Hood leading a band of misfits in an insurgency against the fake King Vortigern.
Rather than the Arthurian tale this movie owes more to other recent film franchises. It looks strikingly similar to Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings, even including a prominent tower that could be Saruman’s residence. There are also scenes oddly reminiscent of The Empire Strikes Back as Arthur undergoes a Jedi-style journey of self-discovery in the forest. Unfortunately, King Arthur never approaches the quality of those franchises.
Any charm this film might have had is machine-gunned with nauseating rapid fire editing, overuse of cgi and a horrible video game aesthetic. Also, there are unwelcome anachronisms such as a pounding rock soundtrack and overly-familiar cockney geezer characters transplanted to medieval times.
The cast’s performances are also erratic. Charlie Hunnam’s sullen routine works in Sons of Anarchy but feels off the mark here and his wobbly British accent doesn’t help. Jude Law is, however, much better and gives Vortigern some genuine malevolence. Most of the other characters are either dull or silly and none of them form any sort of emotional connection with us. A cameo from none other than David Beckham would have been cringe-worthy in most other films but it’s surrounded by so much silliness here that it seems to fit. Add plenty of clunky dialogue and this film is often a painful experience.
Still, credit where it’s warranted. When the film briefly moves away from the green screen, some of the sweeping shots of the verdant English landscape are impressive. Also, a couple of the beasties such as the slithery-tentacled water demons are appropriately creepy.
Although, fleetingly impressive this film is mostly a load of silly-ass rubbish and makes for an exhausting two hours.
Nick’s rating: **
Genre: Fantasy/ adventure.
Director(s): Guy Ritchie.
Release date: 25th May 2017.
Running time: 126 mins.
Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM. Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast. http://subcultureentertainment.com/2014/02/the-good-the-bad-the-ugly-film-show
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