King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (2017)
From the stone to the throne
Bleedin’ ‘ell! I can’t believe it’s already been thirteen years since Antoine Fuqua’s King Arthur (2004) lost a stack of pennies at the box office, the Clive Owen-Keira Knightley-starring vehicle making a mere $52 million in the U.S. against a $120 million budget — talk about leaving a bare-knuckle bruise. Poor figures aside, we find ourselves with more Arthurian content, the new King Arthur movie proving that no brand is safe from those ‘unrgy Hollywood moguls and their current fixation on reboots and shared universes. Vankfully, English director Guy Ritchie, Snatched (2000), brings us something a ‘lil different — a rough-and-ready re-telling of the popular myth, one that’s part Cockney gangster flick and part fantasy epic à la The Lord of the Rings trilogy or Game of Thrones (2011).
Frowing realism out the window, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword opens with a prologue that promises to push all fngs Camelot deep into the realm of make-believe, Ritchie dropping us right in the middle of a medieval smack down. It’s all fire and brimstone as King Uther Pendragon (Eric Bana) and his army of men duke it out against the enchanted forces of the evil mage Mordred (Rob Knighton), a guy who has the ability to control gigantic, building-destroying elephants wiv ‘is mind. Fortunately, Eric Bana stops Mordred with his lightsaber-ish sword, savin’ the kingdom from the wizard’s dark legion. Later that night, Uther’s treacherous brother Vortigern (Jude Law) murders the king and seizes the throne. Uther’s son, however, makes it out alive, the baby set adrift in a Moses-like basket till ‘e is discovered by a group ov defiant prostitutes who raise the boy in the alleys of Londinium.
Ritchie’s influence really begins to shine durin’ a bombastic, ‘yper-stylized montage that sees the young Arthur come ov age — learning ‘ow to protect ‘imself on the tough streets, takin’ beatings and hoardin’ coins — the kid growing into a brawly Charlie Hunnam, Pacific Rim (2013). Clueless about his royal birthright, Arthur and his two snarky mates, Wet Stick (Kingsley Ben-Adir) and Back Lack (Neil Maskell), spend their days makin’ a living off the black market. That’s until the water around Camelot retreats, revealing a sword (Excalibur) secured in stone, the enchanted weapon waiting for the true king to reclaim the crown. Afraid of losing his lordship, the nas‘y Vortigern forces every geezer in the land to try and pull the sword from the stone, Arthur’s true identity eventually revealed. Plannin’ on killin’ his nephew, Arthur escapes his execution with the ‘elp of one of Merlin’s acolytes (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey), who takes ‘im to a mysterious hideout where he meets Bedivere (Djimon Hounsou), who reveals Arthur’s true lineage. Now, armed with Excalibur, Arthur must learn ‘ow to ‘arness the power of the blade, chiefly if ‘e wishes to fight for his legacy and seek vengeance on Vortigern, taking his rightful place as the ruler of the territory. Blimey!
Written by Ritchie, Joby Harold, Awake (2007), an’ Lionel Wigram, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015) — from a story by Harold and David Dobkin, The Judge (2014) — King Arthur: Legend of the Sword explores themes of camaraderie, du’y and fairness, even if it diverts from the known Arthurian mythology by turning it on its ‘ead. The absence of the wizard Merlin (who’s working behind the curtain ‘ere) is probably the main alteration, with Ritchie and his team more focused on world building rather than regurgitating lore, Legend of the Sword the first chapter ov a proposed six-film franchise.
Brimming wiv grungy, kinetic energy, Ritchie uses several ov his signature techniques to enhance the story. For instance, there’s a cheeky sequence reminiscent of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998) that sees Arthur recount certain dealings, the narrative flashin’ backwards then forwards (in time) via a bunch ov unreliable narrators who are rattlin’ away at a razor sharp pace. Anuvver trick is seein’ deese people explain what’s gon’a ‘appen, with Ritchie placin’ viewers squarely in the action in the very next scene. There’s also a montage set in the Darklands — where Arthur battles giant rats, monstrous bats and some nightmarish snakes — that’s wildly imaginative, these moments revitalizing some ov the done-to-death material. What’s more, the GCI is also quite impressive, even if the digital warfare occasionally suffocates the action, the final duel against a Dark Souls-esque baddie probably a bi’ too video game-y for some; all of this is elevated by a thunderous, pulsating score by composer Daniel Pemberton, Steve Jobs (2015), which is sure to get the blood pumping, innit.
Charlie Hunnam makes for a decent soon-to-be-King Arthur, the 38-year-old huffing and puffing his way through the bulk of his scenes. Similarly, Jude Law, Sherlock Holmes (2009), looks to be relishing his role as the vile villain, Vortigern, who sacrifices loved ones to a coven of tentacled sea witches — led by Lorraine Bruce, Eden Lake (2008) — for powerful supernatural abilities. Nuff said, yeah? In terms of Arthur’s broheim band ov merry men, Djimon Hounsou, Gladiator (2000), adds gravitas to proceedings as Bedivere, leader of the resistance, while Aidan Gillen from HBO’s Game of Thrones (2011) is fun as skilled archer William aka Goosefat Bill. Then there’s French-Spanish actress Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011), who portrays an unnamed mage, ‘er backstory possibly ‘eld back for future installments, whilst the always-amazin’ Annabelle Wallis, Annabelle (2014), is wasted as Maggie, one of Vortigern’s double crossin’ maids. And oh, look out for a pointless cameo by professional English soccer player David Beckham, who pops up as a disfigured securi’y guard, complete wiv a prosthetic nose.
Certainly not for the puritans, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is far from the disaster some are claimin’ it to be, this new picture just a bold, fresh take on a story that feels more than a little exhausted. Sure, it might be a smidgen too FX ‘eavy for some, but filmmaker Guy Ritchie has done a daring thing by changing it up, instilling the flick with his distinct laddish swagger, Legend of the Sword basically a modern ‘re-vision’ rarfer than a straight-out remake. Frankly, I wouldn’t ‘ave it any uvver way, mate.
3.5 / 5 – Great
Reviewed by Mr. Movie