Director Guy Ritchie can turn London crime dramas into cinematic lightning – think of his breakthrough movie Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998), Snatch (2000) and RocknRolla (2008). But apply his fast cuts and jagged pacing to the Arthurian legend and you get, well, a brutal, bleedin’ mess. That about sums up King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, an epic bore that believes if you make a movie long and loud and repetitive enough, audiences will conclude it’s saying something profound. Wrong.
Ritchie’s take on the once and future king is more a reflection of binge-watching adoration for Game of Thrones, a sense that he fooled the public before with two Sherlock Holmes blockbuster puffballs and his own early experience making music videos for German dance bands. It’s a tie for most annoying ingredient: the pounding soundtrack or the nonstop clichés. The filmmaker begins his relentless visual attack by thrusting us into the nonsensical action: A herd of elephants thunder about as King Uther (Eric Bana) finds himself betrayed by his bad-boy bro Vortigern (Jude Law, elegantly slimy). The villain aims to kill the King’s young son. Not so fast. The lad is spirited away and raised in a brothel where the whores have hearts of gold and offer countless life lessons.
It’s only when Arthur, played by Charlie Hunnam – much better served these days by The Lost City of Z – manages to pull Excalibur out of a stone that this presumed son of a belle du jour realizes he’s meant for bigger and better things. Of course, Vortigern wants him dead. But Arthur gets protection from his mates, with such slangy names as Wet Stick (Kingsley Ben-Adir), Back Lack (Neil Maskell) and Chinese George (Tom Wu). And it’s only when he receives next-level help from imposing Bedivere (Djimon Hounsou), Bill the archer (Aidan Gillen, Littlefinger from GoT) and a magical, mindreading creature called the Mage (Astrid Berges-Frisbey) that Arthur starts kicking ass and panting for the crown.
If you’re expecting Camelot, show tunes and an erotic triangle with Quinivere and Lancelot, you’re barking up the wrong director. Ritchie loves the clash of armies, and he proceeds to bury our noses in battle for over two punishing, mind-numbing hours. Digital armies do pixelated battle in a manner so generic that they make Nintendo video games seem like the height of sophistication. Talk about sound and fury signifying nothing.