Camelot meets Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Guy Ritchie’s take on Arthurian myth, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is a misbegotten mash-up of sword-and-sorcery action fantasy and geezers-on-a-mission caper. It’s all booming CGI and lairy banter. Bish bash bosh! David Beckham’s cameo, much ridiculed in advance, is far from the dumbest thing you will encounter here.
You probably saw it coming. Ritchie has, of course, turned Charlie Hunnam’s Arthur into a Mockney badass, a well-dodgy brothel-reared chancer ducking and diving in a multicultural 5th-century Londinium where blokes go by such names as Goosefat Bill and Mischief John. Unless, that is, they are the Chinese gent who runs the mixed martial arts training camp around the corner from Arthur’s gaff. He’s called Kung Fu George.
Raised on the streets
However, Arthur’s scrappy upbringing has given him amnesia. He has forgotten that he is actually the son of noble king Uther Pendragon (Eric Bana) and had a Moses-like escape as a child (in a boat rather than a basket) when his treacherous uncle Voritgern (Jude Law) usurped the throne.
Since then, Law’s strutting, preening Vortigern has turned his kingdom into a fascist tyranny. Camelot now hosts Nuremberg-like rallies, complete with Nazi salutes from troops of thuggish goons, the Blacklegs. Arthur and his mates keep their heads down.
Of course, we know that Arthur, though ‘Raised on the streets’, as the film’s tagline has it, is also ‘Born to be king’. But it takes an unconscionable time and much huffing and puffing before he gets a sniff of the crown. The business with the sword in the stone drops a whopping hint that he is endowed with special powers, but Arthur still needs a good deal of chivvying from Astrid Bergès-Frisbey’s wide-eyed, witchy sorceress, The Mage, and Djimon Hounsou’s noble African Bedivere to get him to embrace his destiny.
Born to be king
Which means there’s ample time for Ritchie to indulge his trademark directorial trick of tell and show. Hunnam’s Arthur explains what already has or will happen, and a jaunty montage of proleptic jump cuts illustrates his narrative to cool or comic effect.
It’s cocky and fun, the first time. But Ritchie repeats the trick until it becomes a tic. And the laddish mood of these scenes seems even more out of place when things turn supernatural. One moment Arthur is exchanging bants with the guys: ‘You haven’t had enough porridge this morning to talk like that;’ the next he’s going mano a mano with giant rats.
It becomes even more jarring when, with Excalibur in his hand, he suddenly develops enemy-slaying powers worthy of a comic-book superhero. Who on earth does he think he is? Thor? With no sign here of those familiar figures from Arthurian myth, Merlin, Guinevere and Lancelot, it’s easy to see why he might be confused.
Warner Bros. appears to be saving them for a planned five sequels. On this basis, the likelihood of these films getting off the ground is slim. Sorry Guy. As origin stories go, King Arthur is an epic fail.
Certificate 12A. Runtime 126 mins. Director Guy Ritchie