DRUNKER THAN DUDLEY MOORE’S ARTHUR
King Arthur: Legend of the Sword
Review by Paul Preston
A more apt title for this retelling of the King Arthur story could be called Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, as Ritchie’s thumbprint is on every frame more so than the folklore behind England’s most famous king. But when the classic tale already involves such supernatural elements as The Lady of the Lake, a magical sword and a wizard, I suppose you could take any number of creative liberties to fill Arthur’s world even fuller with mystical creatures. This film reminds me of Darren Aronofsky’s Noah in that way – takes place a long time ago in a land of enchantment with little documentation, so who’s to say the crazy stuff added to the story is way off base?
In Legend of the Sword, Ritchie has butched-up another well-known story with his trademark machismo to the point where the first shot of this film is a giant phallus of a castle tower protruding from the British countryside. Moments after we get a handle on the erect monument, the top of it explodes. Uh-huh. With symbolism out of the way, the story begins.
Arthur’s father, Uther (Eric Bana), is at war with the sorcerer Mordred. After an opening battle, it’s clear Uther’s brother Vortigern (Jude Law) is planning a coup of the throne, which sees Uther and his wife killed by a mysterious force and Arthur left floating down a river (another comparison with something Biblical). He’s taken in by a brothel and raised to be a street hustler. Once he realizes he is the born king, he must rise, against his initial instinct to instead slack off, to unseat his evil uncle from the throne and reclaim it in the name of his family.
Never has an Excalibur movie had this many edits. Ritchie pulls out all the stops to make the most aggressive version of the Arthurian legend yet – edgy, quick cutting, active, zooming cinematography and special effects all over the damn place. And the story goes equally to eleven with segments like Arthur’s trip to The Darklands, where he faces obstacles that allow him to control Excalibur’s power. There he faces several beasts studio heads thought would be cool to have in a movie – giant rats, huge snakes and massive flying bats. I’ve searched the web and haven’t seen anything about Arthur having a Jedi training ground, but the effects and let’s-stop-everything-for-a-bit-of-bedlam direction is absolute lunacy (brief research online doesn’t connect King Arthur to any Darklands, but The Darklands does come up as a mythical land in the RPG game Pathfinder, which seems appropriate).
It’s right about here that you have to just set aside all the prestige that comes with the legend of England’s greatest king and admit you’re watching The Sword and the Sorcerer. Or The Beastmaster. Or Krull. Basically, Albert Pyun is directing. This movie (outside of budget) is so ‘80s, that a kid’s dumb behavior gets people killed.
Underneath all the bombast remain a few Guy Ritchie devices that are fun to watch, as when Arthur (Charlie Hunnam) and his crew plan an encounter with some nobles they want to lure to their resistance of the king. Arthur laying out the plan to his team is intercut with the execution of the plan and the result is exciting, utilizing an energetic delivery of dialogue coupled with clever editing. Then…giant bats. By the end, the film just drops the basic tenets of filmmaking, but not in a rule-breaking kind of way, but in a “Well, we just wanted to do this, whether it makes sense or not” kid of way. It doesn’t. A final fight that should take place at a tower suddenly takes place on an island with crashing waves and crumbling moutainsides ‘cause “Wouldn’t it be cool if…?”.
You have to wonder if this was Guy Ritchie’s goal all along, to make these huge-budget movies, as they’re a far cry from Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, two films that are a reminder that sometimes people work best with restrictions.
Directed by: Guy Ritchie
Release Date: May 12, 2017
Run Time: 126 Minutes
Distributor: Warner Brothers