From Nothing Comes A King
Thirty six years ago a medieval fantasy film based on the legendary exploits of King Arthur was released in the form of Excalibur, it did reasonably at the box office and over time garnered cult success; as well as being a huge boon for the Irish film industry. With the success of fantasy pieces like Lord Of The Rings and Game Of Thrones, you’d think audiences would be totally up for a modern retelling. Regrettably, what we end up with is a very stylistic but remarkably hollow feature reminiscent of equally forgettable CGI-fests Clash Of The Titans, 300: Rise Of An Empire and Hercules.
For the most part, King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword follows the Arthurian legend to a degree. Following an opening battle sequence establishing Uther Pendragon’s (played by Eric Bana) rule over England, being overthrown by his scheming brother Vortigern [Law] and the escape of the young prince Arthur ..played by one of the most unresponsive child actors I’ve ever seen. Sailing down the river from Camelot, Arthur arrives in London – sorry, Londinium – and is taken in by a group of prostitutes. Over the years he learns the hard ways of the streets and establishes a nice little underground living. Years later, the lake near Camelot reveals a sword embedded in a rock which no one can unsheathe. This arrival prompts Vortigern to instigate a search for all potential individuals who could in fact be the lost king. Back in Londinium, Arthur [Hunnam] is arrested in connection with an altercation with a group of Vikings and brought to the stone to try and remove the fabled sword. Arthur has an extreme reaction to the weapon and is brought before his uncle, the king, who frankly explains that in order to fully establish his rule, Arthur must die.
I rather enjoy Guy Ritchie’s releases but with the rather tedious The Man From UNCLE and now this, one would assume big budget blockbusters aren’t his forte. And yet, I really enjoy his Sherlock Holmes features. Trying to ascertain the lacking quality between those positive releases and these negative ones is surprisingly tricky. They both adapt established works with high energy and a cheeky sense of rapscalliousness but there are a handful of key factors that are either lacking or absent entirely. The most obvious being a strong script. King Arthur is a story that has been told again-and-again, itself an amalgamation of origin stories and legends the world over. Subsequently, we all know the ideas and core concepts inside out: orphaned child is discovered in a capsule, grows up to be a protector of men and then challenges an oppressive ruler to establish his rightful place. As such, the only way to draw the audience in is to make the peripheral and aesthetic details interesting and engaging enough to distract us from what is, essentially, the same old story. Amazingly, this film manages to make these elements so distracting that they become the central focus for criticism.
Ritchie’s films are unarguably stylistically driven and this has served him well over the years but this film is a bit of a muddled mishmash of concepts. From the fucking awful 90s font to the erratic, schizophrenic tone between cheeky cockney street thugs and high-stakes fantasy drama nothing really works the way it should. The production design and cinematography on Sherlock Holmes and its sequel were bold and pleasing but here everything feels cheap and hollow despite the literal wealth of detail and money that’s been poured into it. Both the direction and editing are sloppy and most of the film feels like it’s told in a rushed montage, racing to the end of the film to establish an outcome for, what I can only assume is, an intended multiple sequeled franchise.
Another key staple of a Ritchie release is the wealth of acting talent utilised. King Arthur isn’t any different but rather than employing a decent range of thespians, we get a scale going from Game Of Thrones veterans to David fucking Beckham. I don’t care about cameos either way, sometimes they can be surprising and reveal hidden acting talent – Eric Cantona I’m looking at you – but most of the time they just take you out of the film entirely and David fucking Beckham is a prime example. Don’t get me wrong, he does a surprisingly adequate job but it’s such an oddball choice. Ultimately, the cast performs as expected but whether down to delivery or editing, I couldn’t get behind Hunnam. I like the man as an actor but in this role he never really excels, which is frankly baffling as he’s cut his teeth on performances that draw upon every necessary component on display here. Although by the end of the film I wholly believe one of the prerequisites for this starring in this release is how you look delivering a slow motion roar.
And yet, it should be noted that King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword is far from awful. Daniel Pemberton’s pounding, medieval Celtic score is powerful and pleasing, the costume design is really nice and gives the world a beautiful rich look and the pacing ensures that, although things are skipped over quite a bit, nothing lags. The problem is this isn’t enough. This story could have easily been told on half its assigned budget, garnered a decent amount of respect and amped up the scale in a follow-up release. Instead we are given a massive initial outing and told that there will be more, whether we want it or not, which is entirely the problem with Warner Bros releases of late. Far from offensively dull or bad, King Arthur’s greatest crime is simply that it doesn’t do enough to warrant existing in the first place, let alone hanging around for a further five instalments.
19th May 2017
The Scene To Look Out For:
**Spoilers throughout this section**
The CGI both works and flails horribly depending on the scene. So I’ve highlighted two for you. In order to harness the dark magic to rule England, Vortigern makes a deal with a nautical creature that is both grotesque and beautiful in its design. The acting is great, the location design is superb and the water effects, make-up design and CGI are brilliant. In a more disappointing example, the final showdown between Arthur and Vortigern in full-on muscly hulk mode is breathtakingly shit. I wouldn’t denigrate video games by drawing a comparison to them and bad visual effects but the whole sequence feels like watching a ropey quick-time-event ..whilst spinning around in a washing machine. The quality is questionable, the action is impossible to follow and all tension is completely absent, culminating in an extremely poor effort.
Of all the actors in this movie, Jude Law gives a performance that feels like he’s appearing in an entirely different release. Vortigern is suitably nuanced, dark and layered but devoid of any of the charm and levity that is injected throughout the movie. Obviously, this was to ensure he retains a menacing presence but in the end it just leaves him feeling somewhat external.
“That’s what you’re here for Bedevere, you silly posh bastard”
In A Few Words:
“An odd choice of release with a handful of standout moments but overall a bit of a non-event”