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King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

by on May 10, 2017
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In the next paragraph, I am going to tell you “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” is a uniquely awful film, in that unlike other half-considered blockbuster messes this one seems to combine two fully considered, albeit awful, attempts at the same story spliced together.

It’s difficult to tell when the studio saw the dailies from Guy Ritchie’s rough-and-tumble “Snatch”-in-the-Medieval-Ages version and decided to make a hard left into magic and mysticism, but the seams are apparent with every cut, every transition. Material is repurposed constantly as either expository flashbacks or flash-forwards narrated by Arthur; almost every plot point is rehashed and restated and re-experienced. It’s hard to say this movie actually tells a story.

“King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” is a uniquely awful film, in that unlike other half-considered blockbuster messes this one seems to combine two fully considered, albeit awful, attempts at the same story spliced together. It’s difficult to tell when the studio saw the dailies from Guy Ritchie’s rough-and-tumble “Snatch”-in-the-Medieval-Ages version and decided to make a hard left into magic and mysticism, but the seams are apparent with every cut, every transition. Material is repurposed constantly as either expository flashbacks or flash-forwards narrated by Arthur; almost every plot point is rehashed and restated and re-experienced. It’s hard to say this movie actually tells a story.

See how that works?

Charlie Hunnam plays Arthur Pendragon, in this version separated as a child from his father Uther (Eric Bana), whose evil brother Vortigern (Jude Law) takes over the kingdom of Camelot. Arthur is raised by prostitutes in Londinium, a chav criminal with a heart of gold. He also knows kung-fu because he knows an Asian man named George (Tom Wu). Arthur is brought back to Camelot when Vortigern decides to test all men of the correct age with the Sword in the Stone. Lo and behold, Arthur pulls Excalibur, is captured, rescued, etc. etc. etc.

I say “etc.” as if the narrative follows any real kind of coherent logic – emotional or narrative – but Ritchie and his staff of five credited writers (and presumably producers and editors) managed to produce a movie devoid of either. Even on the basis of pure thrill and spectacle, “Arthur” fails; the CGI looks worse than movies made two decades ago, and many of the action sequences are cut within an inch of their life (or filmed with GoPros for some reason). It’s just a mess.

Case in point: The big second-act leadership challenge Arthur faces is arranging an assassination attempt on Vortigern, which fails when one of his most trusted lieutenants decides to start firing at enemy underlings instead. Way to go, Arthur! The resulting chase sequence is repetitive, messy and frankly nonsensical; set in Londinium, we never actually get the sense that they’re in a big city, just a collection of tightly woven and circular alleyways that exist only to produce constant conflict. Nobody is running to, or from, anything. Arthur shows no leadership. It’s a wonder he ever goes “from stone to throne” at all.

The one saving grace is that Law is so hammy he’s practically bacon. His performance, and his alone, seems to recognize he’s in a low-rent version of “Snow White and the Huntsman,” and like Charlize Theron in that film he embraces the camp. I’m not telling you that Law makes “Arthur” worth any amount of money, time, or attention, only that if you do find yourself so unfortunately engaged, he offers the briefest, briefest respites from this dull, frustrating and sometimes insulting movie.

I have to be honest: About an hour into “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” I tried to go to sleep. I wasn’t tired; in fact, I had just eaten a large meal at Kokomo, Indiana’s lovely Cone Palace restaurant and was feeling pretty amped up. I just wanted to be doing anything besides watching “King Arthur,” and I was seated in the middle of the row so getting up to pretend to go to the bathroom would be awkward. So I bowed my head (wearing the free hat we received for the AMC Theatres “King for a Day” promotion) and took a quick catnap. I didn’t miss anything.

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