Sunday, 21 May 2017

Film Review: King Arthur - Legend of the Sword

Alright, guvnah - it's only bloomin' King Arfur, innit!

Like Robin Hood or Cinderella, The legend of King Arthur and his knights of the round table is one of those stories that will be told and retold time and again until the end of time. The last time Hollywood had a crack at the myth was back in 2004 with Clive Owen and Keira Knightley. The reception was lukewarm to say the least.

This time around its over to Guy Ritchie and his rather particular blend of English laddishness and gruff sensibilities. Imaginatively subtitled Legend of the Sword, this reimagining posits Arthur (Charlie Hunnam) as an orphan who grew up in a brothel in a rough part of London (if there were any parts that weren't rough in Medieval times that is). His father, Uther (Eric Bana) was betrayed and killed when he was a child by Vortigen (Jude Law), who stole the crown and banished magic from the realm.

Now a grown man running all manner of criminal rackets throughout London, Arthur's heritage comes to light when Excalibur reveals itself and he is forced to acknowledge his true legacy.

Ritchie approaches Arthurian legend with the same rough and tumble approach that characterised his earlier work - Legend of the Sword spins Arthur into a wheeler dealer who punches first and asks questions later. It's Snatch and Smoking Barrels meets Dungeons and Dragons. 

It's a mess of ideas that crash together with an earth-shattering amount of noise and hustle, only occasionally finding its footing long enough to stage a coherent story. It skips around with jittery impatience but employs enough wit to actually work some of the time. When Ritchie is at his most Ritchie (one scene sees Arthur bantering with his crew and retelling a sequence of events to a guardsman), it pops with a pleasing effervescence. To say it will work for everyone is simply incorrect, but I found a lot to like in Ritchie's frantic take - even if it's by no means 'good'.

The storytelling is somehow both overlong and too quick, the visual effects look like a knock-off version of The Witcher and the acting covers a broad range of greatness, from Hunnam's undeniably fun and gruff Arthur to Astrid Berges-Frisbey's wooden and cold mage. Maybe that was the point but I felt like her character could've brought a bit more warmth or charisma, as could Aidan Gillen and Djimon Hounsou's Bill and Bedivere.

Daniel Pemberton's score is filled with all manner of skittish percussion and folkish strings and is an aural assault to match with Ritchie's feverish camerawork and editing. One scene, where the gang are being chased through the winding alleyways of London by Vortigen's thugs, works so well with Pemberton's heart-racing score underneath that you just can't help but smirk.

The Verdict: 6/10

I quite liked King Arthur: Legend of the Sword - so shoot me. It's so far removed from the roots of Arthurian legend that it felt really cool and different, and I applaud Ritchie for putting a fresh spin on a tale as old as time. It's a rough and sweaty vision of King Arthur that is unapologetically modern at times. It's very frayed around the edges and overlong though, and some of the acting is questionable to say the least.

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is in cinemas across Australia now.

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