Magic moments: Guy Ritchie's King Arthur film ain't 'arf bad
Already making headlines as a mega-flop before even opening here, Guy Ritchie's King Arthur: Legend of The Sword isn't a total disaster, as David Roy discovered
IF YOU'VE ever wondered what semi-mythical hero King Arthur would be like as a hulking mixed-martial-arts-trained 'geezer' with mystical powers – and, let's face it, who hasn't? – director Guy Ritchie's new superhero-styled film has the answer.
As portrayed by a buffed-up and distractingly mid-Atlantically accented Charlie Hunnam (who's allegedly from Newcastle Upon Tyne), this Arthur's an 'Arfur', a street-wise type knocking about in the back streets of Londinium with cohorts Back Lack (Neil Maskell) and Wet Stick (Kingsley Ben-Adir).
They're more like Robin Hood and his merry mates than King Arthur and his future Knights of The Round Table.
Indeed, Guy Ritchie and writers Joby Harold and Lionel Wigram have constructed King Arthur: Legend of The Sword (henceforth referred to as KALOTS) as an 'origin story', which reveals how Arthur was done up like a kipper by Vortigern (Jude Law), his nefarious uncle, before finally pulling that famous sword from the stone.
Playing fast and loose with the accepted Arthur mythology, it's the first instalment of a planned franchise which, thanks to its disastrous US box office, might already be so dead in the water than even The Lady Of The Lake (portrayed here by Ritchie's wife, Jacqui Ainsley) herself couldn't save it.
A somewhat incongruous cameo by Ritchie's celeb mate David Beckham is unlikely to help matters either.
However, while KALOTS is no masterpiece, it's no Revolver/Swept Away style stinker either.
The film opens strongly with a big battle set-piece between the once peacefully co-existing Britons and the supernaturally powered Mages.
The latter storm the royal stronghold of Camelot under King Uther Pendragon (Eric Bana) atop giant elephantine beasts rendered with decent CGI, but the king single-handedly beats back the hoarde of creepy wizards with the aid of his magic-infused sword, Excalibur.
Unfortunately, petulant schemer Vortigen has a pact with head Mage, Mordred (Rob Knighton) – a hideous hybrid of Skeletor and The Kurgan with deathly Terminator eyes – to betray his brother.
When the coup is sprung, Uther and family are forced to flee, with only the infant Arthur making it beyond Camelot in a sequence nicked right out of the Book of Moses.
Thirty years later, the hated King Vortigen is getting anxious: he knows the true heir is out there, just waiting to pull the abandoned DNA-coded Excalibur free from the rocks and reclaim the throne.
Except Arthur ain't got a clue, mate: he's too busy a ducking and a diving down the docks – until Vortigen's army of 'blackmen', led by the snarling Mischief John (Geoff Bell) start rounding up likely contenders, that is.
That's also when Uther's old buddies Sir Bedivere (Djimon Hounsou) and Goosefat John (Aiden Gillen) show up and urge Arthur to embrace his destiny.
One of the least successful elements of KALOTS is its attempt to paint Arthur as a 'reluctant' hero.
While using Excalibur turns the would-be king into an unstoppable sword-wielding Neo out of The Matrix who can dispatch entire battalions of blackmen in one go, it also brings Arthur painful visions of his long-forgotten past and a terrifying feeling of 'not being in control'.
Annoyingly, rather than save countless lives by just having Arthur and his rebels bite the bullet-time and move directly for a face-off with Vortigen, instead Ritchie and co insist on dispatching poor old Art off to 'the Darklands' for some psychedelic soul-searching/creature battling, aided by sympathetic Mage Astrid Berges-Frisbey and her magic snake.
This is one of the many times KALOTS feels less like an actual film and more like a manic flurry of kinetic editing: flashbacks, flash-forwards, jokey voiceovers – sometimes all three at once – arrive sporadically like jolts of storytelling caffeine, lest short attention spans begin to wander throughout this relentlessly slick and only occasionally incoherent fantasy film, which actually improves as it gathers momentum.
It's all utterly predictable, of course, and unintentionally funny in a good few places, but King Arthur: Legend of The Sword is still pretty enjoyable fare for those in the mood for a gonzoid dose of geezered-up action fantasy.
KING ARTHUR: LEGEND OF THE SWORD (12A, 126 mins) Action/Adventure/Fantasy/Drama/Romance. Charlie Hunnam, Jude Law, Astrid Berges-Frisbey, Djimon Hounsou, Eric Bana, Aidan Gillen, Kingsley Ben-Adir, Neil Maskell, Geoff Bell, Rob Knighton, David Beckham. Director: Guy Ritchie