By Liam Lacey
Set in a sooty digital landscape of flame-spouting castles, cliffs and dizzyingly-high bridges, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, is a comic book superhero origin story in all but name.
The first of a planned six Arthur films (an apparent pipe dream now, given its disastrous opening weekend box office), this introductory episode ties a Shakespearian framework — a stolen throne, a prodigal prince — to the usual video game spectacle. There’s no jousting here but there are enough giant creatures thundering about the screen to make it easy to confuse King Arthur and King Kong.
Some of it almost works. For a few brisk scenes, director Guy Ritchie reminds us of the promise he showed us with his two earliest features, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch. Disreputable male camaraderie is his forte and when this Arthur “reboot,” veers to the loutish, it’s at its most tolerable. The orphaned Arthur (played with easy swagger by Charles Hunnam) grows up on the mean streets of Londinium, where he is schooled by the local riff-raff in stealing, brawling and bantering - good things for a king to know. While it’s refreshing to see an Arthur who spends more time kicking butt than pledging his troth, the relief is brief.
Once the brawny Arthur wins the national pull-a-sword-from-a-stone contest and shows he’s the true monarch, he has a target on his back, placed by the evil King Vortigern (Jude Law), an eye-rolling psychopath allied with various growly-voiced demons . (I started to think of Law as Sir Hams-a-lot.)
Arthur is adoptedby the “resistance” whose leadersinclude ace archer, Goosefat Bill (Aiden Gillen of Game of Thrones) and Sir Bedivere (Djimon Hounsou). Soon, Arthur is struggling to dictate strategy while overcoming his tendency to faint whenever he grasps the big magic sword.
While King Arthur some comic moments, it really can’t be bothered with romance at all. Female characters who aren’t supernatural tend to get stabbed and tossed off parapets immediately after they are introduced. Instead of a love interest, Arthur has a psychic link toan emo-looking French sorceress or “Mage” (Astrid Berges-Frisbey), who transmits visions to him that stutter and shake as if she has a bad dial-up connection. More helpfully, she provides Arthur with supernatural assistance each time he finds himself in an inescapable fix. We are left with one big cliff-hanger: Just what kind of magic would it take to carry this motley shambles through another five movies? Or even one?
King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. Directed by Guy Ritchie, written by Joby Harold, Guy Ritchie, Lionel Wigram and David Dobkin. Starring: Charlie Hunnam, Jude Law and Astrid Berges-Frisbey. Now showing at Cineplex Varsity, Cineplex Yonge and Dundas, Cineplex Yonge and Eglinton Cineplex Yorkdale, Scotiabank Toronto and other cinemas.
Liam Lacey is a former film critic for The Globe and Mail, as well as contributor to various other media outlets over the past 37 years.. He recently returned to Canada from Spain because he forgot about the weather.