Future Aladdin director Guy Ritchie’s latest cinematic offering is a rather unique take on the legend of King Arthur, a legend that has given the world a whole host of cinematic interpretations from John Boorman’s Excalibur to Disney’s The Sword in the Stone and even TV series such as BBC’s Merlin and Chris Chibnall’s Camelot (inherently forgettable but boy was Eva Green the PERFECT Morgana), but how does Ritchie’s brand new adaptation stack up?
Charlie Hunnam here stars as Arthur, a rather cocky young lad who was raised in a brothel and spends his days dealing with rough customers, frequently haunted by nightmares in which he remembers his father Uther (Eric Bana) and mother Igraine being slain by a demonic, supernatural being. After angering a group of Vikings with close ties to the tyrannical King Vortigern (Jude Law), Arthur soon finds himself hunted by the King, who learns that Arthur is his nephew and seeks to kill him in order to . . . gain absolute power or something, and teams up with a ragtag group of warriors and a powerful Mage (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey), taking the battle to Vortigern, coming to terms with the death of his parents and accepting his role as wielder of the powerful Excalibur.
So how does Ritchie’s new version fare? Well after a fairly decent opening sequence (which seems to borrow GREATLY from The Lord of the Rings, more on that later . . .) the film quickly turns into “King Arthur meets Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels“, the main characters seemingly being East End gangsters (indeed with names like “Flat Nosed Mike”, Mischief John” and “Goosefat Bill”!) who natter on about how they messed with the wrong geezers and are now in trouble with the big boss, in a scene that could have come straight from Lock Stock, were it not set in Arthurian times. All of this certainly makes the film different, infusing it with an anachronistic Guy Ritchie style, but despite its ambition, it is all noticeably out of place and is completely at odds with all of the serious, supernatural stuff.
I guess this film could have been called “Cockneys vs. Knights” or something . . .
On a similar note, the supernatural stuff does tend to get a bit too silly at times, especially with a baffling, logic defying scene involving a giant snake and as mentioned before, Legend of the Sword seems to nick a whole lot from Lord of the Rings since it basically includes Oliphants, Crebain, Ents, giant eagles, the Watcher in the Water and that scene where the hero is shown a vision of “what will come to pass if [he] should fail”! The film also seems to borrow from the likes of The Elder Scrolls, Assassin’s Creed, perhaps even the Dark Knight trilogy, and one particular scene which is straight out of Reservoir Dogs!
The story is quite boring and the dialogue isn’t that good, despite a smattering of slightly humorous lines. Some scenes had me drifting off quite a bit, some parts are predictable (the Lady in the Lake scene) and it is sometimes a bit of a challenge to figure out what the gang are actually up to and what King Vortigern’s endgame is. The whole thing doesn’t amount to much as, despite some impressive CGI, it is surprisingly boring and a struggle to get involved with the central quest. Plus, the element of Arthur being plagued by nightmares is used far too often as we are constantly pulled out of the main narrative to revisit relentless flashback scenes involving Arthur’s parents, because obviously the hero has to accept responsibility and to settle his demons for the quest to begin.
The performances in Legend of the Sword are alright, nothing extraordinary, and there’s only perhaps one weak performance in the whole thing. Charlie Hunnam is quite good (far better than he was in Queer as Folk anyway – he’s come a long way!) and he is a fine action hero, though nigh on impossible to actually believe to be King Arthur and he does lack a certain amount of charisma. Also, Jude Law does the best that he can with the clunky writing and, with his white shirt and black jacket look, often looks like he’s starring in some modernised Shakespeare play. Still though, he’s effectively slimy and villainous in this, even though his character is a little one note and makes some stupid decisions like not immediately killing Arthur. Eric Bana puts in a brief but dignified appearance as Uther and it was also good to see Hunnam reunited with Queer as Folk co-star Aiden Gillen.
The only weak performance is that of Astrid Bergès-Frisbey who plays The Mage; maybe it’s because she’s Spanish so her dialogue didn’t exactly sound right but it was hard to buy into her performance and she was slightly too unlikable throughout.
Oh and yes, David Beckham does make a cameo appearance. It’s as bad as it sounds.
Elsewhere, the special effects are pretty decent (though not including that dreadful “squid monster”) and Daniel Pemberton’s pumping score injects the film with a certain amount of adrenaline, giving it a rebellious, rock and roll flavour. The film is a bit too visually drab though and its editing can get a little frantic, unfocused and uncertain.