Director: Guy Ritchie
Writers: Joby Harold (screenplay), Guy Ritchie (screenplay)
Stars: Charlie Hunnam, Astrid Bergès-Frisbey, Jude Law
Warner Bros new film King Arthur: Legend of the Sword was to be the beginning of a shiny new Camelot universe before it absolutely bombed at the box office recently. I was going to take it relatively easily on this film, as I actually didn’t think it was totally terrible, though of course, it wasn’t great by any means either. That was until I discovered the budget for the thing. $175 million is an utterly bewildering budget for a film in this position to be granted, like to the point where I’m left wondering just where in the hell they spent the bloody money.
Spearheaded by Charlie Hunnam as King Arthur himself, an actor I actually admire as a fan of Sons of Anarchy, it’s essentially an origin story in what was to be a half dozen film franchise. It opens with a fantastical battle intro set in the relatively recent past with Uther Pendragon (Eric Bana), Arthur’s father, successfully leading the assault against Mordred, a powerful warlock, rampaging his way through Camelot, on an army of towering Elephants. Did Ritchie binge watch Return of the King prior to this? Visually, the elephants were just about fine, but the castle was decidedly dodgy looking. Vortigern (Jude Law), the treacherous brother of the hero then performs a sacrifice, murdering his wife Elsa to unleash a powerful dark magic and betray/overthrow Uther, casting out a young Arthur in the process and setting us on our way into the present.
When we meet him again, presumably a good twenty years has passed at least and Arthur is living a simpler life in a brothel. His roughing up of some prostitute bothering Vikings, brings with it some unwanted attention to his doorstep that eventually leads him to Excalibur and a date with destiny. There’s one particular montage scene during this part of the film where he’s describing the roughing of said Vikings, which sticks in my mind for mixed reasons. It was extremely choppy from a visual standpoint, with about twenty or so cuts to various different scenes within a short period of time. The humour was quite well implemented though. This cinematography style actually popped up again later in the film, and I have to say that although I’m not a fan of the style, it did work reasonably well. Shoutout to Mr. Roose Bolton himself (Michael McElhatton), who made a nice, little cameo.
Now, Arthur would be nothing without his loyal, dutiful knights and they duly appear not long afterwards. This not so merry band of soldiers, waifs and strays are at this stage led by Sir Bediver (Djimon Hounsou), Uther’s once right hand man and they soon want the former to help lead a rebellion against the tyrannical king. He’s in no mood for this after his narrow escape from the murderous clutches of uncle Vortigern, especially following an embarrassing blackout during the reclaiming of Excalibur. The timely intervention from the mysterious Mage (Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey), an associate of Merlin, and Bediver’s men lets him fight another day however and they soon manage to persuade him into joining the cause, though not before forcing him to restore the power within himself and the sword on a dangerous solo journey through the ‘Blacklands’. This inevitably leads to a showdown between Arthur and Vortigern after much plotting and counter plotting between the two factions.
In terms of performances, it was a reasonably well acted film actually despite the forgettable story. I don’t recall many utterly outstanding performances catching my eye, but Jude Law was the best of the bunch as the evil Vortigern. He played the part with enthusiasm and was a believable villain. You can’t ask for much more than that. Eric Bana popped up in bits and bobs throughout. You know what you’re getting with Bana. Djimon Hounsou was pretty decent. I think he’s a smashing actor. Bergès-Frisbey did what she could with a fairly underused and afterthought of a character. Charlie Hunnam will always hold a place of semi-reverence for me after his performance as Jax Teller, but objectively, he doesn’t yet have the gravitas to lead a film or franchise of this ilk. He did ok and nothing more. Can someone tell me why David Beckham was in this? Aidan Gillen channeled his inner Littlefinger with the portrayal of Goosefat Bill. I can’t imagine him as anything else now.
I intended to be harsh on this film with the ridiculous budget and all, but I honestly can’t bring myself to slate it. It’s not THAT bad and I honestly think it’s flopped purely because of the terrible marketing, a relatively underwhelming story, and I’m going to say it again, ridiculous budget. You just can’t spend that amount of money on an untested franchise and expect to come out with anything like a profit. It’s just really, really terrible planning and resource management from Warner Brothers. Most people will look at the flop headlines and give it a body swerve, but I say give it a blast.