What’s it about?
Wicked Vortigan bumps off good King Uther, but not before his son and heir Arthur escapes down the river. Arthur is subsequently rescued by the workers at a Londinium brothel, where he grows up to be a Cockney geezer trained in martial arts by his Chinese mate George. No, really. After pulling the magical, king-making sword Excalibur from the stone, Arthur finds himself recruited by the resistance to bring down the tyrant Vortigan.
Who’s in it?
Jude Law is Vortigan and does his best to inject some much-needed camp into this dead-eyed affair. Despite some wonderfully louche lounging in flowing velvet gowns, it’s sadly nowhere near enough.
Astrid Bergès-Frisbey brings a sort of kooky etherealness to her role as the Mage (AKA “sole woman with more than three lines”), but struggles with some leaden, portentous dialogue.
At the heart of this, however, is Charlie Hunnam. His Arthur, flushed with self-importance, requires an actor possessed of serious sparkle. Charlie isn’t that actor. This could be the first Camelot film in which the Round Table is less wooden than the lead. Rather than romantic warrior king, Charlie’s Arthur comes across as a smug idiot pugilist or, given his style choices, a painful hipster barista who should probably shut up more often.
Why should I see it?
Director Guy Ritchie hasn’t lost his knack for a good montage. The best moments here are the fastest, as Ritchie disposes of Arthur’s upbringing, his training and the mythological backstory as a breathless music video. If the rest of the film had a similar energy, it would have been far more thrilling. More importantly, it would have been shorter.
On the other hand…
The action sequences are fantastically overblown (giant elephants and snakes abound for no discernible reason), if muddled and muddied by the ubiquitous greyish and orange CG that remains in vogue.
While there are flashes of Ritchie’s talent for ensemble banter, the characterisation is minimalist – the director taking the mantra “less is more” to homeopathic extremes. The only one of Arthur’s gang to really stand out is Back Lack, whose appeal is solely down to actor Neil Maskell putting far more into the part than the script ever gives him. I can’t imagine anyone being excited by the idea of spending another five films (as intended) in the company of these half-baked nobodies.
I actually quite admired the furious mashing of genres that goes on here – in intent, if not execution. No doubt hardened Arthurians (if they exist) will be troubled by the remixing of key elements that go on here. Mordred is a bit part sorcerer, rather than Arthur’s illegitimate son. Merlin is either wholly missing or possibly a giant eagle. There is also no sign of Morgana or Guinevere (the two key female roles).
This sort of playing with the legend is fine, if the purpose is to make it fresh and relevant. That’s not what’s going on here, so much as an attempt to cash in on other franchises. Ritchie bolts on currently successful genres (Arthur ends up being a sword-wielding gangster superhero with martial arts skills) without caring how comfortably they fit together. The result is the feature film equivalent of impatiently and half-heartedly skipping through your Netflix queue.
Entertaining in intermittent bursts, this is a whole lot of nonsense with nothing to say.
In five words or less.
A kingly mess.
Two stars ✭✭
- Opens May 18
- Rated M
- 126 minutes