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Charlie Hunnam stars in King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, a fantasy film that is loud, fast-paced and lacking in subtlety.

2 out of 4 stars

Title
King Arthur: Legend of the Sword
Written by
Joby Harold, Guy Ritchie and Lionel Wigram
Directed by
Guy Ritchie
Starring
Charlie Hunnam, Jude Law and Djimon Hounsou
Classification
14A
Country
USA
Language
English

Well, Guy Ritchie sure put his stamp on this bit of British mythology. Lock, stock and flaming arrow.

Listen, I like the Snatch and Sherlock Holmes director as much as the next guy (unless the next guy is Jason Statham). But the often brilliant filmmaker's smarmy, brutish take on Arthurian legend is more brawl-a-lot than Camelot, with little time for gallantry or sentimentality. Or nicety or courtesy or "my lady" pleasantries. (Some prostitutes are involved, though – more fair game than fair maidens.) In short, Ritchie gets medieval.

The fight-filled fantasy's first scene involves loud battling, big music and giant, destructive elephants. The beasts are like bulls in a china shop, except they're elephants and it's not a china shop at all. Anyway, the pachyderms pack a wallop. As does King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, in irreverent, violent, occasionally confusing, periodically entertaining and sometimes silly ways. One part video game and two parts Game of Thrones, the epic is ugly and over the top – intentionally so.

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King Arthur, then, wears its unsubtlety like a crown.

Some might find it stimulating. Others will find it bonkers. Watching Jude Law do a slow-motion howl, for example, is certainly … something. Those watching King Arthur in a 2-D setting shouldn't be jealous of the people who see it in 3-D – the extra dimension isn't worth a damn.

All told, it's definitely one of best dozen or so Arthurian films ever made. To borrow a Monty Python and the Holy Grail tagline, Ritchie's King Arthur is "another film completely different from some of the other films which aren't quite the same as this one is."

Ritchie's dizzying quick-cut dialogue scenes pop up here and there, and his nifty time-shifting storytelling techniques are also employed. The gist of the narrative involves a barely there Eric Bana as the good King Uther Pendragon. His nemesis is Law's Vortigern, the King's underhanded brother. Law does excellent evil: A scene involving a lopped-off ear will have Tarantino starting a slow clap for sure.

Vortigern makes some sort of supernatural deal, ascending to the throne when the "born king" little boy Arthur floats away unharmed in a skiff after his father Pendragon gets a sword in the back. Arthur is brought up in a brothel by your typical heart-of-gold prostitutes. He gets knocked about by the other boys at first, but he's also being trained by rebel warriors. Soon enough he's grown up into Charlie Hunnam, the capable British actor who portrays Arthur as a hunky, butt-kicking, cockney-mouthed swashbuckler.

Arthur is unaware of his lineage. Which brings us to David Beckham, a friend of Ritchie's and the husband of Victoria Beckham. When he was a professional footballer, nobody could bend it like Beckham. But when it comes to another British legend, nobody can yank it like Arthur. Beckham does a cameo as a scar-faced soldier in a scene in which Arthur pulls the magical weapon Excalibur out of a stone, thus establishing his royal identity and setting up his inevitable confrontation with the vile King Vortigern.

The film's running time surpasses the two-hour mark. Ritchie doesn't exactly use all that time well – repetition sets in. One of his default occurrences is to have the noble sorceress Mage (acted seriously by Astrid Bergès-Frisbey) turn her eyeballs black and conjure up all manner of animals to get Arthur and his posse out of jams.

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In the same ocular fascination, Hunnam's irises turn nuclear blue when Arthur grabs his sword and Law's peepers go weird whenever he's up to no supernatural good. The eyeball thing is Ritchie's way of letting his audience know that something is happening. In much the same way, the countless lingering close-ups of Excalibur are a way of accentuating the legend of the sword. We get it.

That's the director's choice, though. It's all about the weapon – it's magical, it's mighty and, at first, it's far too much responsibility and power for Arthur to handle. In the same way, it could be said that Ritchie is unable to properly deal with the weight of the mythic subject matter of this film. But, as they say: Live by the sword, die by the sword. More parts of the franchise are expected to come, if the box office acts accordingly. Let's see if Ritchie can grow into the legend as Arthur does.

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