If Warner Bros. hoped British director Guy Ritchie would, with his take on the Arthurian legend, deliver them a snazzy, zeitgeisty and adrenaline-charged Game of the Thrones style hit, boy did they bet on the wrong horse. This hopeless, visionless, mindless, artless, shapeless, senseless, feckless, soulless, lustreless big budget pancake is a bona fide run-for-the-exit downer.
King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is also one of those annoying movies with a superhuman protagonist who kicks arse effortlessly and joylessly. Played by a smug and unlikeable Charlie Hunnam, the titular character never earns his stripes as an action hero. Even the obligatory yanking of the sword from the rock feels rather effortless this time around, as if it were something to do on a smoko break.
In another review, for another — better — film, the suggestion of adding training sequences and/or arduous battles/defeats en route to ultimate victory for the hero might be considered reasonable. Not here, because if such measures extended the running time for even a couple of minutes — or even a couple of seconds — it would not be worth it, and possibly push audiences one step closer to full-blown riots.
“Legend of the Sword feels like it was directed by a person who makes music videos for German rave bands.”
That is, assuming they arrived in cinemas in the first place. Legend of the Sword was intended to be the first in a six-part series. A disastrous run at the box office, however, with every second media report deploying turns of phrase such as “epic failure” and “massive flop”, means that now — thankfully — this seems unlikely.
A sound editor who worked on George Miller’s bat-out-of-hell classic The Road Warrior once told me how that film’s producer, the legendary Byron Kennedy, was obsessed with every scene being played at eardrum-destroying volume. This constituted his one request, delivered time and time again: louder, louder, louder!
To address Kennedy’s demand without actually doing anything (the fate of the speakers, and even the projection system was lying in the balance) the sharp-thinking soundy came up with a solution. He gave his boss control of a fake fader in the editing room and encouraged him to adjust it. No matter how many times Kennedy cranked it, the sound — already at deafening levels — never got any louder (though he never noticed) because the fader never worked in the first place.
It’s a shame nobody invented the equivalent placebo device to deal with obsession over ‘louder’ visuals, because Guy Ritchie — and certainly his audience — would have benefited from it. The director’s short fuse, slash-chop-burn-smash style brings contemporary sensibilities to Arthurian lore, no doubt about it — a reminder old stories will never disappear from screens because they can always be re-varnished with fresh licks of paint.
But is that necessarily a good thing? Legend of the Sword feels like it was directed by a person who makes music videos for German rave bands. Incidentally, what Ritchie did prior to his punchy, street smart film debut Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.
“[T]he soldier in charge of managing the all-important sword-from-rock removal sequence, barking and snarling at men lining up to give it a crack, is played by — of all people — David Beckham.”
Viewers entertaining the idea of watching Legend of the Sword would be better advised to seek out Chinese director Yimou Zhang’s underrated fantasy epic The Great Wall, another large scale swords and arrows fantasy released in 2017. Zhang’s ability to hold the frame is inspiring — particularly in this day and age, and particularly compared to Ritchie’s through-the-blender visual brio.
In Legend of the Sword there are occasional hallucinogenic surprises splotched onto a barely existent storyline, including vision of an eel-like monster lady who bears some resemblance to Jabba the Hut, and a trippy but clumsily staged sequence in which Arthur revisits his traumatic childhood. Also, a gratuitous moment when Vortigern gets his Mr Blonde game on and cuts an ear off a victim.
The square-jawed, brick-bodied Hunnam brings a Tom Hardy-lite presence to the crucial role, with a hint of rascal-like charm smothered by the director’s overbearing style. Arthur is a wastrel whose parents (including father Uther, played by Eric Bana) were killed as a child. The future leader floated down a river to safety, baby Moses style, rising to greatness many years later to deliver lines such as “put your ring back on, honeytits.”
In Ritchie’s hands, the soldier in charge of managing the all-important sword-from-rock removal sequence, barking and snarling at men lining up to give it a crack, is played by — of all people — David Beckham. It’s a head-scratching decision, suggesting the director is more interested in fiddling with his rolodex than casting roles meaningfully. Did Ritchie even turn up to the set? Was this whole thing directed via Skype? Somebody give the man a fake fader; a fake camera; a fake everything.