Thursday, May 11, 2017

Review: "King Arthur: Legend of the Sword"

“King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” is the sort of movie that ends careers… or ought to.

This is just a stinking garbage pile of a movie. Director/co-writer Guy Ritchie, who turned the Sherlock Holmes stories into a dizzy Ferris wheel of grimy alleys and knife fights, takes on the Arthurian legend with the same aesthetic and considerably less skill.

It plays like a random assembly of Ritchie-esque shots -- slo-mo fights, cutaways to characters standing around looking cool as the wind swirls around them, and that thing he does where the people describe what’s going to happen, intercut with it actually happening.

It’s like they took the cut scenes from the video game version of the movie and made that the movie.

It’s a common insult for critics to say a movie plays like a video game. But I like video games, and such a comparison would be an insult to them.

The entire legend of King Arthur, the Knights of the Round Table, the tragedy of Lancelot and Guinevere, etc. is tossed out the window by Ritchie and fellow script men Joby Harold and Lionel Wigram. Instead, Arthur is a street scamp who rises to become the quiet crime lord of Camelot, running brothels and collecting extortion money from merchants.

He’s played by Charlie Hunnan, wearing a smirk and one of those haircuts that are popular these days where it’s buzzed to the scalp everywhere except the top. (Note to men: If you’re north of age 14, don’t.) He manages to pull the sword from the stone pretty early in the going, and spends the rest of the movie working out his daddy issues.

Eric Bana plays Uther Pendragon, murdered by his brother (!), Vortigern, played by longtime Ritchie thespian Jude Law. He’s trying to build a tower to increase his magic powers, except we never see him do anything more impressive than light a candle with his mind. Well, he does have one other trick up his sleeve, but it’s actually the work of a strange sea creature that resembles Ursula from “The Little Mermaid,” who demands a heavy price.

Merlin is off away doing something, but he has sent another mage, known simply as The Mage (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey), in his stead to help out. It seems Vortigern has been carrying out a genocide against the mages. She can do that thing where her eyes go all-pupil and she takes over the body of wild creatures. We keep thinking she and Arthur are going to hook up, but first somebody needs to feed her.

Rounding out the cast are Djimon Hounsou as Bedivere, a loyal general to Uther who helps out the son; Aiden Gillen from “Game of Thrones,” who apparently is now required to be in every medieval movie, as Goosefat Bill, who makes quips and flings arrows; and Kingsley Ben-Adir and Neil Maskell as Arthur’s criminal lackeys, Wet Stick and Back Lack.

There’s also a martial arts school in the middle of Camelot, with an Asian teacher named George, who tutored young Arthur in the ways of badassery. And David Beckham turns up in a cameo as a flunky with a nasty eye scar.

(Lots of people have eye scars, for some reason, including Arthur.)

Other weird stuff: Arthur passes out a lot. No, really, whenever he touches Excalibur, he just faints dead away like a Southern belle with the vapors. For some reason, the rebels looking to overthrow Vertigern keep following him.

There’s also Arthur’s odd montage quest to the Darklands, which is supposed to be his big descent into darkness and accepting of his lineage. Except he’s still a prick when he comes back.

I grew up reading and loving the Arthurian legends -- what, most 9-year-olds don’t tear through “Le Morte d’Arthur”? -- so to see them used for this sneering bit of tomfoolery pains me to no end.

There’s not a spark of magic in “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword.” It’s a visually splendid movie that proves the limits of what eye candy alone can do.

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