Part “Game of Thrones,” part “Snatch,” and almost all bad, Guy Ritchie’s “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” is one of those generic blockbusters that has nothing to say and no idea how to say it. It’s not the worst film of 2017 — after all, Jude Law plays an evil wizard who sacrifices his wife to a three-headed sex kraken in the first 10 minutes — but it might just be the most unnecessary.
Things start intriguingly enough, as Ritchie opens with a prologue that promises to push this very familiar epic even further towards hard fantasy than any of its previous tellings — such is the dark magic of CGI. Launching us into a medieval world of men and mages, the film kicks off with a very video-gamey battle between the human army of King Uther (Eric Bana) and the enchanted forces of the evil wizard Mordred (it doesn’t matter). Uther is just a guy with a great head of hair, but Mordred is a sorcerer who can control massive elephant creatures with his mind. Of course, anyone who’s seen “Munich” should know that this is a much fairer fight than it first appears, and Uther is able to save the kingdom.
But all is not well: Uther’s brother, Vortigern (Law), murders the king and usurps his power. He tries to kill the king’s son, but baby Arthur is safely Moses-ed down the river to safety, tucked in a basket and sent towards the hardscrabble life that awaits an anonymous orphan who’s raised by warrior prostitutes in the backstreets of Londinium. One hilariously aggressive montage later — the first of many examples in which the film moves at the pace that Daniel Pemberton’s beautiful and blisteringly percussive score sets for it — and Arthur has grown into a beefy, goateed Charlie Hunnam.
Admittedly, a lot of this sounds kinda awesome (especially if you’re thinking of “The Lost City of Z” Charlie Hunnam, and not “Pacific Rim” Charlie Hunnam), but “King Arthur” falls apart as soon as it settles into its first act. Taking one of the foundational stories of the Western world and somehow rendering it borderline unintelligible, the film tries to reconcile the gothic splendor of “Dark Souls” with the revolutionary zeal of “Les Misérables” and the bawdiness of a London crime saga (with a little “Ocean’s Eleven” thrown in for good measure), but Ritchie fails to meaningfully alchemize any of the disparate ingredients he lumps into his cauldron. It’s easy enough to appreciate the revisionist spectacle that the director might have had in mind, the compelling new take that he might have conjured atop the bones of this time-old tale, but Richie’s film is savagely quartered to death by the influences from which it’s drawn.
If it weren’t so boring, it would almost be impressive how fast — and how comprehensively — Ritchie and fellow screenwriters Lionel Wigram and Joby Harold are able to make a mess of things. This is a movie that, despite boasting the most basic of all possible plots, makes it virtually impossible to understand what’s happening on a minute-to-minute basis. It’s as if Ritchie and co. felt that the simple familiarity of their story empowered them to tell it in the most needlessly flat and fractured way possible.
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