I think it’s safe to say after two-decades we know what we have in Guy Ritchie. The man is a gifted filmmaker who’s been shaped by his contemporaries and not necessarily for the better. Contemporary Ritchie is a weird combination of Tarantino and Michael Bay churning out studio blockbusters with faint whiffs of his gangster movie past. He surprised everyone in 2015 by releasing The Man from U.N.C.L.E. that combined his schizophrenic style with a 60’s spy aesthetic that was charming and fun. That proved to be a complete anomaly given his new picture King Arthur: Legend of the Sword – a movie so incomprehensibly dumb I can’t fathom it even being green lit.
That’s not to say King Arthur is boring – far from it. The film is tonally bonkers, a two hour and fifteen-minute romp through medieval England that attempts to simultaneously rip up the sword and the stone story we all know and revel in the legend. There are mages, 50-story tall elephant monsters, Ursula-like squid monsters (with special powers? Still confused by that one,) and the famous sword Excalibur that, in Ritchie’s Londinium, turns the King into a Neo-like “the one” complete with bullet-time speed ramping wrapped in CGI that looks as dated as The Matrix.
Given the approximately 47 Hollywood movies that tell this story, the plot mechanics are somewhat pointless to rehash. Arthur (Charlie Hunnam – having a moment) is orphaned after his parents are murdered by his dick head uncle Vortigern (Jude Law – dressed like he’s attending the Met Gala during their “goth” themed years.) He comes up on the streets of Londinium – raised in a brothel, running shady business for coin and learning karate from the local and seemingly only Asian man in the city.
Eventually Arthur must go, along with all the men in the city, to the sword in the stone and attempt to extract it. Arthur does (after being negged by David Beckham – I’m not joking) and sets in motion a plot to become king, kill his uncle and restore order to the kingdom (Arthur wears a white Henley all movie while all the baddies where black, in case you needed a visual reminder who was good and bad.)
I’m all for a full-bananas take on King Arthur – this tale as old as time does not need to be told to a new generation with the copious interpretations already peppering the landscape so to do it again you might as well try something new. Ritchie does, and his vision is singular. This is a world where magic is real and accepted but Ritchie doesn’t invest at all in the rules instead choosing to employ said magic to help his hero only when the plot requires. It’s a deus-ex-machina used at least twice without an ounce of self-awareness.
The cast is used as sporadically as the magic. Hunnam is making his push toward movie-stardom and I enjoy his presence here. He has an easy confidence and calm that, when used properly, can carry a dense story. He mostly works as Arthur but isn’t given a whole lot of meat, mostly wildly swinging a sword, screaming in slow motion and occasionally trying to carry Snatch-like gangster dialogue that was funny but wildly out of place. Jude Law is absolutely in on this joke and hams it up even harder than he did as the Young Pope. Law chews on the scenery, stabbing and slithering his way to the throne.
There’s a case to be made to hate watch the 2017 King Arthur and I will happily make it. This is a very bad movie but I was entertained by it. By the third act the CGI-budget had clearly been exhausted leaving Xbox One level cut scenes onscreen, characters seemingly come and go at will and there is no concept of geography so I was never entirely sure where anyone was. It’s incredible how incompetent it is. The Legend of the Sword may very well make a mint worldwide but I say save your viewing for a MST3K-style rabble watch, it’s what this movie truly deserves.