It has been 50 years since Warner Bros released its adaptation of the Lerner and Loewe musical Camelot. Now the studio is back on the King Arthur bandwagon with a wildly different take on the famous mythical world of the Knights of the Round Table. This new version actually is more like British Punks of the Round Table as director Guy Ritchie creates a brand-new backstory for Arthur in King Arthur: Legend of the Sword.
Since the romantic and gorgeously designed world of Camelot, we have had other interpretations including John Boorman’s superior Excalibur in 1981 and Antoine Fuqua’s inferior King Arthur in 2004, another misguided attempt to rework the well-known story. Of course Ritchie, who also turned the Holmesian legend on its head in Sherlock Holmes and its sequel, has every right to interpret the Arthur legend in any way he sees fit. Clearly he sees this as one that will reflect our current contemporary sensibilities, and in that regard this go-round is very dark and dismal indeed. With blaring rock music, busy action scenes involving gigantic elephants and enormous snakes, overdone CGI dripping in special effects, this is definitely not your father’s idea of Camelot –– or your mother’s, for that matter — as this edition is devoid of any sense of romance, medieval splendor or wonder.
It all starts with a battle where King Uther (Eric Bana) saves the kingdom against all odds, only to be offed by his evil brother and would-be/wannabe king, Vortigern (Jude Law), who will stop at nothing to assume the throne. He even attempts to kill Uther’s baby boy, Arthur, before the tyke miraculously is sent out of harm’s way and eventually into a brothel, where he is brought up in the tough street ways of the time in the place then known as Londiniem. Clueless as to his real identity or fate, Arthur (Charlie Hunnam) takes up with other street toughs until one day he magically does what no other can do: lift the Excalibur sword right out of the Stone. This, of course, does not please Vortigern, and the battle is on as Vortigern sets out to control and conquer anything in his midst.
Much happens in between all this, but not a lot of it is decipherable, and after a while I just didn’t care. Ritchie covers it all up with busy action scenes, mumbled dialogue, overacting actors and extremely booming music. This is a King Arthur for those with short attention spans and video-game sensibilities. It seems more inspired by the success of Game of Thrones than anything else, but little of it connects. Hunnam, so good in this spring’s The Lost City of Z, takes a step back here with a role that won’t harm his career but likely won’t help it much either. Law, who starred as Watson in Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes movies, goes way over the top trying to make Vortigern unbearable. As an understanding clairvoyant, Astrid Berges-Frisbee is OK, as are mates and future knights Djimon Hounsou and Aiden Gillen.
Production values are fine, but the whole thing is so dark and damp it lacks a sense of any fun at all in a movie that might better be titled Arthur Apocalypse. Clearly Ritchie and his producers Akiva Goldsman, Joby Harold, Tory Tunnell, Steve Clark-Hall and Lionel Wigram are hoping for a sequel. Perhaps it might be better without all the backstory, just getting down to the violent basics of it all. I’m not waiting for it. Warner Bros releases the film on Friday.
Do you plan to see King Arthur: Legend of the Sword? Let us know what you think.