This won’t take long.
This alleged multi-million summer blockbuster would be better entitled ‘King Arfur’. Every subject director Guy Ritchie touches rings out the sound of Bow bells, Cheapside, every character he creates, or reimagines, turns into a cockney geezer.
Remember when our English friends denounced Braveheart as historical rubbish? Well, they still do. It won five Academy Awards. But how about this all-cockney turkey?
It’s a wonder that King Henry VIII spiv, stick-it-to-the-bleedin’-Scots, Ray Winstone, isn’t starring in it, the cockney’s larger than life professional cockney.
The modern method of seducing a new generation of cinematically illiterate to the movies grates. The fashion for sticking modern dialogue into the mouths of medieval characters, wearing pantaloons or tights, sucks, whether royalty, heroes or simpletons. For a start it’s lazy writing. “You’re playing with fire!” “You’ll soon see what all the fuss is about,” “Not likely!” “Feel the power.”
I wouldn’t mind if post-classic era films found a decent alternative to heightened language, one step or two below Shakespearean verse is okay, but modern colloquialism jars on the ear. It’s the equivalent of eating a hamburger in Ye Olde Tudor restaurant built last week.
The habit of giving old mythology a modern twist, throwing off old conventions, began some time ago, even before the late much missed Heath Ledger blew his talent away on A Knight’s Tale. Back in Hollywood’s naïve wide screen ‘technicolor’ days we had Tony Curtis playing a Brooklyn-English knight, on horseback, modern saddle barely hidden, saying with all sincerity, “Yonda lies da castle where ma true love dwells.”
What possessed a studio to put money into this film? We’ve had any number of half-baked interpretations of the sword in the stone saga, and the last, King Arthur, (2004) starred the flat-footed Clive Owen prancing around darkest England chased by Roman soldiers. It failed miserably at the box office.
The inside skinny is a number of star names were lined up for this Arthur and then one by one pulled out, presumably when they read the next sheaf of script pages. That left television jobbing actor Charlie Hunnam to prove he has no big-screen presence at all. And Jude Law the only ‘name’ looks as if he’d rather be somewhere else.
The film’s full title is King Arthur: Legend of the Sword to differentiate it from other Arthurian legends called King Arthur: Legend of the Sword.
The plot is brief. Arthur pulls a sword out of a stone, Vortigern decides Arthur is an unwanted rival and so must pull out his heart, and Arthur thinks about pulling the Mage lady or some other – I lost interest at that point. (I’ll do my best to relate a bit more. ) Arthur starts off as a child who’s cast away when his father, King Uther Pendragon, (Eric Bana), is killed by Vortigern, (Jude Law), Arthur’s uncle, a lover of the dark arts. (Plot of Conan the Barbarian.) The boy grows up to be a strapping six pack, tree feller, and mole strangler. And so, when the time comes for Arthur to pull the sword from the stone, he has no interest in any of it. But pull the sword he does for a ‘larf’, and immediately he’s pursued by Vertigern and his “blackleg” shock troops.
Arthur’s principal allies are a former Merlin acolyte – sorry, Merlin doesn’t feature in this version so he sent his deputy, referred to solely as “the Mage”, (Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey), wise former Uther companion Sir Bedivere, (the great Djimon Hounsou totally wasted yet again), and “Goosefat” Bill Wilson, (Aidan Gillen), so nicknamed for his knack for getting out of tight jams. Sigh. You would be better watching reruns of Game of Thrones.
King Arthur is not Guy Ritchie’s worst film but it’s pretty close. He exploded onto the cinema scene with Lock, Stock and Two Barrels, and Snatch, a couple of fast, bloody caper films that sort of reinvigorated the cockney crime genre. However, the perceptive could see he had a lot of style over substance. You enjoyed recounting the funny scenes, but nothing lasted. Arthur is a compendium of all the things that make Ritchie interesting to watch but miserably disappointing to see, if you catch my drift. His version of Arthur is damn annoying. It veers between smart-ass and idiocy. The plot is what a kid writes for homework to be read in class next day: “My Film Script” by Betty Purvis, aged ten.”
You’ll hear film pundits describe Ritchie as a ‘re-imagining’ director, which is to say, one who plagiarises other people’s ideas, adding mild but annoying changes here and there. Virtually everything in the film has been done before and done much better. The movie is a clumsy mishmash. Everything is random. It lurches from scene to scene. It has no coherence or narrative drive. It’s punctuated by overwrought, frenetic, uninspired action sequences – a Ritchie hallmark – set to a score so painfully brain numbing it sends you to the pick ‘n mix sweetie kiosk for a sanity break. And those costumes – where did they get the technology to create those intricate weaves and fibres in olden times? Ritchie keeps choosing subject matter for which he is resoundingly unsuited.
As Arthur, Hunnam adds another project to the accumulating evidence of his naffness – see Pacific Rim, Crimson Peak, and The Lost City of Z. As Vortigern, Jude Law displays the required amount of malevolence, and sour plum expressions.
Remarkably, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword was conceived as the first of a six-part series. I know three of the producers. They must be grieving into their Starbucks lattes. The film has lost a ton of money so far – budget $175 million, box office $18 million – so perhaps we will be spared Arfur 2 to 13.
Why bother to create a colorful cast of characters, with all those colorful names, if you’re going to do damn all with them? Cineastes who hate King Arthur for the liberties it takes and its bluster will spit. Ritchie’s reinvention makes the story predictable and derivative.
I’ve given it two stars, one more than I really want to, to prove I’m not prejudiced against cockneys – the funniest folk on the planet. Honestly. Just, not this time around.
- Star rating: Two stars
- Cast: Charlie Hunnam, Eric Bana, Jude Law, Djimon Hounsou
- Director: Guy Ritchie
- Writer: Joby Harold, Guy Ritchie, Lionel Wigram
- Cinematographer: John Mathieson
- Music: Daniel Pemberton
- Duration: 2 hours 6 minutes