12A – 126mins – 2017 – 3D
THE MAN FROM C.A.M.E.L.O.T.
The sword in the stone, the Lady in the Lake, the Knights of the Round Table… You think you know the legend, but certainly not told like this. Lock Stock and Snatch director Guy Ritchie brings his own, erm, ineffable and idiosyncratic style to the oft-told story of the medieval British leader whose historical biography has long been entwined with mythical embellishments, magic and Merlin.
Sons of Anarchy breakout star Charlie Hunnam headlines as the inexcusably cocksure soon-to-be-King, who was sent away from Camelot by his defeated father, Uther Pendragon (Eric Bana), and has been brought up as a brawler on the streets of Londinium. But when he manages the impossible and draws Excalibur from its rocky residence, he sets in motion an ultimate showdown with the tyrannical usurper of the thrown, Vortigern (Jude Law).
Merlin is bizarrely absent for no good reason whatsoever, and only afforded a couple of namechecks. In his place is a slight, soulless female mage (Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey) who must focus the reluctant Arthur in his quest to master the unwieldy, in-demand weapon, overcome his demons, unite the cockney masses and conquer the pretender who rules the repressed land.
Dragons don’t get a look in, although the opening battle sequence does feature some giant evil elephants. The Mage later conjures up a basilisk straight out of the Harry Potter‘s Chamber of Secrets, while Vortigern is fully prepared to sacrifice his loved ones to The Little Mermaid’s Ursula the sea-witch in order to keep the crown. Oh, and there is a contingent of burly Vikings, who only really feature at the beginning and the epilogue in two superfluous scenes.
Bewildering and messy is how I would best describe Ritchie’s canon-departing epic. It has obvious shades of recent anachronistic action-fantasy The Great Wall, and many-an-illusion to genre epics such as The Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones, but Ritchie also can’t resist some truly out of place flourishes which just seem wrong outside of his early East End gangster fare. The quick banter between arrogant Arthur and his geezer chums (Neil Maskell, Kingsley Ben-Adir) I can forgive, but rewinding retellings illustrated on screen because someone disagrees with the narrator is eye-rollingly inappropriate.
I will admit that the film does (marginally) improve the further it progresses, particularly when the exposition is out of the way and the narrative becomes focused on the end goal. Perhaps by this stage I had finally accepted that this was not the King Arthur story I was looking for and was able to see/appreciate it as its own separate entity.
There are gleams of promise amid the mire that is The Legend of the Sword. The octopus-like beast in the bowels of the castle, for instance, is refreshingly unique and disturbing, and on the whole the sell-out audience I watched it with at a Cineworld Unlimited Card preview screening last night laughed in all the right places. Alas, Daniel Pemberton’s jaunty, Sherlock Holmes-esque score does not sit comfortably with the rough ‘n’ tumble tone, and the ‘dynamic’ set-pieces are a blustery blur of head-throbbing camerawork.
CR@B’s Claw Score: