King Arthur is dif­fer­ent, but not great

The Hamilton Spectator - - A&E - KATIE WALSH

It’s bold, it’s dar­ing, it’s a black metal acid trip. It will most likely give you mo­tion sick­ness. It’s Guy Ritchie’s take on the King Arthur story so, nat­u­rally, this King Arthur (Char­lie Hun­nam) is re­ally into bare-knuckle box­ing (see Ritchie’s “Sher­lock Holmes” and “Snatch”). “King Arthur: Leg­end of the Sword” is un­like any other medieval war­fare and sor­cery movie ever com­mit­ted to film, but that doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily mean it’s good. This King Arthur su­per­hero ori­gin story is strange, in­vig­o­rat­ing, of­ten out­right bad, con­fus­ing, and to­tally wild.

In this ver­sion of the well-known story (sword, stone, wizards, etc.), the film isn’t so much writ­ten as it is edited within an inch of its life. Most peo­ple as­sume movies can’t tell an ef­fect­ing story with rapidly edited mon­tages alone, but what “King Arthur: The Leg­end of the Sword” pre­sup­poses is — maybe it can? It can’t, but it’s a no­ble ef­fort.

In the first half, Ritchie and editor James Her­bert man­age to nail a del­i­cate bal­ance in the ag­gres­sive edit. The film flashes for­ward, back, side­ways and through time, slash­ing through hy­po­thet­i­cals, plans, night­mares, mem­o­ries, and tall tales. By the thinnest thread, they main­tain char­ac­ter, tone, place and time. But the sec­ond half of the film de­volves into a fetid stew of mud­dled time­lines and mushy de­tails.

About two-thirds of the way through, at about the point where Ritchie has at­tached cam­eras to his ac­tors’ shoul­ders so the au­di­ence can jog along, look­ing at the un­der­side of some­one’s chin as they run and jump and hur­tle through space, it all be­comes a bit ex­haust­ing and dis­ori­ent­ing. Ritchie, Her­bert and the writ­ers don’t es­tab­lish char­ac­ter well enough in the early part of the film, but they at­tempt to achieve touch­ing char­ac­ter mo­ments in the sec­ond half, which is dif­fi­cult when we barely have a grasp on each char­ac­ter’s name, who they are, and what they’re do­ing.

That’s a shame for the story since it re­volves around the themes of friend­ship and male com­pan­ion­ship. With no Guin­e­vere or love tri­an­gle, Arthur is only mo­ti­vated by a de­sire to pro­tect his friends and loved ones, which dis­tin­guishes him from his evil un­cle, King Vor­tigern ( Jude Law), who has no prob­lem slash­ing rel­a­tives down one by one if it makes him more pow­er­ful. That fo­cus on the re­la­tion­ships be­tween men is one of Ritchie’s hall­marks. As for the women in the film, we’ve got a horde of nur­tur­ing sex work­ers, an un­named Mage (Astrid Berges-Fris­bey), and var­i­ous, in­ter­change­able wives, moth­ers, daugh­ters, sis­ters.

What is clear is Ritchie’s de­sire to retell a leg­end of English roy­alty through his adopted per­spec­tive on the world, to show a Lon­don (“Lon­dinium” in the film) pep­pered with Cock­ney-ac­cented con men, thieves, whores and low-lifes, no mat­ter the cen­tury. He makes Arthur, a king of royal blood, into a com­moner by the cir­cum­stances of his up­bring­ing. In “Sher­lock Holmes” and now “King Arthur,” Ritchie seeks to dis­rupt and rein­ter­pret the myths of aris­to­cratic English heroes into schem­ing, wheedling, street-smart tough guys.

Un­for­tu­nately, he doesn’t stick the land­ing on “King Arthur: Leg­end of the Sword.” Any­thing in­no­va­tive de­scends into a com­put­er­gen­er­ated mon­strous melee. Nev­er­the­less, the larger is­sue re­mains as to why this is the cur­rent it­er­a­tion of Arthur — seem­ingly, it’s just be­cause Ritchie thinks it’s cool.

WARNER BROS. PIC­TURES,

Arthur (Char­lie Hun­nam) ful­fils the prophecy that only the “born king” can pull the sword from the stone.

DANIEL SMITH, THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Jude Law plays Arthur’s mur­der­ous un­cle, Vor­tigern, in “King Arthur: Leg­end of the Sword.”

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