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:Movie Review: King Arthur

10

King Arthur:  Legend of the Sword
Release Date:  May 12, 2017 (USA)
Studio:  Warner Bros. Pictures
Starring:  Charlie Hunnam, Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey, Djimon Hounsou, Aidan Gillen, Jude Law, and Eric Bana
Music:  Daniel Pemberton
Director:  Guy Ritchie
Rated PG-13

Review by William Nesbitt
Professor of English and Chair of Humanities and General Education
Beacon College, http://www.beaconcollege.edu

What a muddled mess of a movie.  There are enough rapid cuts in dialogue and camera shots to make your eyes twitch.  If you try to hang on and follow the plot, you’ll find there is little to follow.  The events are very loosely based on the Arthurian myths.  As best I can tell, here’s what happens in this version.  Arthur’s uncle Vortigern (Jude Law) kills Arthur’s father.  Arthur is raised in a brothel unaware of his regal origins.  In the meantime, he stockpiles money and receives combat training from one Kung Fu George (I am not making this up).  He pulls Excalibur out of the stone, but isn’t at all sure he wants to be king.  Excalibur is a powerful magic artifact, but Arthur is unable to wield the sword basically because he has not fully remembered and processed the tragic episode of his father’s murder.  Some people help him out including a female magician—not Merlin—with unspecified powers.  Arthur deals with his repressed memories and is sort of guilted into becoming King when The Mage—she doesn’t receive a name—shows him a vision of the future in which England lays in waste and devastation.  You can figure out the rest. 

There are other fatal flaws.  The characters aren’t very interesting either and the flashy CGI effects of giant snakes and flaming demon skeletons aren’t nearly as exciting as they might sound.  There is a lot of action, but it’s just a lot of meaningless, frenetic running, jumping about, sword slinging, and such that blends into a blurring, whirling, flavorless mush.  There are a few funny instances of dialogue and I searched online for a script so that I could quote them.  However, I couldn’t find a script, perhaps because one does not exist.  There is very much the feel that the movie makes it up as it goes along, as if someone didn’t do their reading but had to hastily complete a pop quiz on the Arthurian tradition and this movie is the result of what was cobbled together, made up, and misremembered.  Perhaps plotlines involving core Arthurian characters and events such as Merlin, Lancelot, Guinevere, and the Grail quest could have given the movie some substance and direction, but the movie leaves them out, possibly because there are five more episodes to go in a planned six-film series (or maybe the script cut class on those days).

Surely, there is something good to be said about this film.  Jude Law is great, bringing as much life as possible into a dead movie.  His body language and facial expressions are superb and he delivers his stock lines with conviction and power.  Some strange lady with tentacles promises to grant him a wish if he sacrifices someone he loves at the edge of the water.  Twice he does so and these scenes are highlights.  As bad as this film is I am curious to see if the next one—assuming there is a next one—can be worse. 

The film poses a double-bind.  If you are familiar with Arthurian films, seeing this one is completely unnecessary; if you are unfamiliar with Arthurian films, this a terrible place to begin.  Either way, try John Boorman’s 1981 Excalibur instead.  King Arthur:  Legend of the Sword doesn’t even make the grade as shitflick.  If you want an A+ shitflick that is just as mindless but highly entertaining go with The Fate of the Furious.

Throughout the film, The Mage—no she doesn’t get a name—poses a question to Arthur:  “Did you see everything you needed to see?” For me, the answer is yes.  More than enough.

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