In the prologue, we’re shown how Uther Pendragon (Bana) defeats the mages, who are threatening the kingdom with their magic and giant elephants. There’s still a threat, though, and Uther sends his young child away to safety prior to being murdered, leaving his brother Vortigern (Law) as King. The young boy grows up in a brothel, learning to fend for himself while squirrelling away as much money as he can. That is until the waters in the lake subside suddenly revealing the king’s sword Excalibur stuck fast in a stone. Fearing the prophecy that whoever pulls the sword is the rightful heir to the throne, Vortigern rounds up all eligible males to have a good tug. This is where Arthur, as he has been christened by his prostitute family, comes in. Reluctantly, he takes his chance and the scimitar slips easily from its stone sheath. Sensing a revolution, Vortigern attempts to do away with his nephew and rival once and for all.
Following the classic tale fairly faithfully (giant elephants and other beasts notwithstanding), Ritchie’s version of the Arthurian origin is as hip and sassy as one would expect. This doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s any good. Utilising his trademark moves of slow motion/sped-up fighting and cutting away to see a story play out between the dialogue - not to mention numerous laddish ‘quips’, it’s a frantic visual assault. It’s almost halfway through the film before we get to a scene that doesn’t appear to be purely montage.
Charlie Hunnam is a likeable Arthur, think a low-rent Tom Hardy (minus the mumbling) and Jude Law is a superb pantomime Vortigern, hardly looking a day older than his appearance in the prologue that takes place a considerable time earlier judging by how grown up Arthur has become. Sadly, the fast pace and lack of characterisation don't give us much chance to form a true dislike for him, despite us seeing him kill members of his own family as a sacrifice to the slithery water creature living in the bowels of Camelot and pull a Reservoir Dogs moment on one of Arthur’s allies. He’s certainly no Joffrey. Which brings us to the obvious comparison, Ritchie’s legend owes more to HBO’s series than recognised mythology. We even get Littlefinger himself Aiden Gillen with his one-note delivery as Goosefat Bill. The less said about the trick casting of OK! Magazine cover star and former kickballer David Beckham the better.
While there’s plenty of magic and spectacular effects, Merlin himself is conspicuous by his absence (although he is given a reference early on), no doubt should the planned sequels come to fruition, both he and Lancelot will be making an appearance. Astrid Bergès-Frisbey is an enigmatic addition to the gang as the mage who aids Arthur and shows him his true path (which involves a traumatic visit to Skull Island - huh, we mean the Darklands). Her delivery is at odds with the rest of the fast-paced repartee but definitely adds a few infodumps. Best of the bunch is Djimon Hounsou’s Bedivere, who is commanding every moment he’s on screen.
The quick-witted quips and gags fall flat more than they hit, but will certainly keep an undemanding audience smiling. The zippy pace and overblown fight scenes (when you can actually work out what’s going on) are also enough to be entertaining, but ultimately, there’s something less than grand about the proceedings after you get past the giant elephants. As a reimagining of a story that’s so well known, it’s not a disaster, but the overuse of the same cinematic tricks Ritchie relies on to make it ‘cool’ becomes very tired; what worked for Holmes doesn’t necessarily translate to Arthur.
KING ARTHUR: LEGEND OF THE SWORD / CERT: 12A / DIRECTOR: GUY RITCHIE / SCREENPLAY: JOBY HAROLD, GUY RITCHIE, LIONEL WIGRAM / STARRING: CHARLIE HUNNAM, JUDE LAW, DJIMON HOUNSOU, ERIC BANA, ASTRID BERGÈS-FRISBEY, AIDAN GILLEN / RELEASE DATE: MAY 19TH
Expected Rating: 7 out of 10