After a powerful warlock attacks and destroys Camelot, but is repelled by King Uther Pendragon (Bana), humans and magic-wielding mages try to live in peace and understanding. But Uther’s brother, Vortigern (Law), wants the throne and power for himself and so betrays Uther and kills him via dark magic.
Only Uther’s son escapes after taking a boat and drifting from Camelot to Londonium. There, he is brought up by savages, prostitutes and scoundrels to become a wise and respectful man called Arthur (Hunnam).
As Vortigern seeks for the blood heir to the throne in order to kill him, Arthur is guided by allies of his fathers, the Mage (Bergès-Frisbey) and Sir Bedivere (Hounsou), in order to retrieve his powerful sword, Excalibur, learn of his true powerful Pendragon name, and battle Vortigern and his army to free England from his powerful and dangerous rule...
Going into this, I didn’t know what to expect. I’m not a huge fan of director Guy Ritchie in general, but I know of his works and his “trademarks”. But, based on a subject I have interest in, I decided to give this a go.
I wish I hadn’t as I got nothing out of it.
Any film that has ex-footballer David Beckham in it as a cameo role goes beyond being credible and just comes over as a film where a director wanted to get his mates involved and have a laugh. It’s like Ritchie has done a spoof of the King Arthur legend but without it being funny.
The opening battle with a good but too brief dose of Eric Bana keeping things grounded is the highlight. A visually impressive but brief battle between man, mage and beast blends fantasy and legend very well. It’s after the credits things take a turn for the Ritchie.
Set in the typical medieval looking city of Londinum that we’ve seen before in every re-telling of this story, Charlie Hunnam fails to even look the part of an Arthur, future King of England, let alone act like one. He may have the body and sex-appeal, but he’s TOO much of a street urchin/fighter/charmer to have any relevance to the legend itself. This is beyond a re-telling; it’s a garish reboot of the whole legend making Arthur something he never was, all for the sake of making this a cutting-edge, retro-yet-modern and streetwise “hip” story. Leather trousers, tight fitting shirts, bomber jackets....I can’t tell what era this even is.
It’s a shame for Hunnam to be lumped into this mess as he has come over as just “one of the lads”, but as we’ve seen in ‘The Lost City Of Z’, he’s an alright actor to carry the right film with the right material. He’s not ground-breaking, but he’s got something there at least. This material, however, lets him down greatly.
Jude Law doesn’t really do much, but he does at least give us a villain who enjoys being a villain and isn’t as hammy as you’d expect. Djimon Hounsou is also the only one of Hunnam’s lot taking things too seriously as Sir Bedivere. The fleeting Eric Bana is also enjoyable in his few minutes of screen time. After that? It’s down to Lock, Stock & One Smoking Sword era.
The supporting characters have names like Kung-Fu George, Jack’s Eye, Flat-nosed Mike and Backlack. I mean, this could be one of his London gangster flicks. To be honest, it really is, just set in ye olde days. We have so much Cockney accent here it’s like a bad soap opera, and there are mini ‘Oceans Eleven’ style flash-forwards and flash-backs setting up infiltrations, robbery and assassinations. It’s not clever, it’s not fresh and it’s just very out of style for this film. It’s a horrible blend of legend and director.
The action is fast, frantic and opts for stylish camera work that could be tracking lads running through a modern London street in a fight...just wind the clock back, and again it’s a horrid blend of classic narrative v misguided directing. The soundtrack is nothing faithful either, nor is the overall style of things. It hints of fantastical mage magic and we get glimpses of the beasts of such an era, but it’s cut short for lots of frustrating flash-backs to the past whenever Arthur is about to lay the smack down, and when he eventually does, cue a Matrix-style, CGI blur of Max-Payne influenced slow-mo bad guys who get blasted away by a supernatural sword and Hunnam body-double.
If you want Errol Flynn style sword-play here, you’re going to be disappointed. In fact, stick with ‘King Arthur’ of 2004, or even ‘Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves’ for how this should be done. But, if you want a REAL King Arthur story, go with the best - ‘Monty Python & The Holy Grail’ - as it gives us more of a plot and interesting characters than this turgid slog.