King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (2017)

Starring: Charlie Hunnam, Jude Law, Aiden Gillen, Djimon Hounsou, Astrid Bergès-Frisbey, Eric Bana, Neil Maskell, Freddie Fox, Craig McGinlay, Kingsley Ben-Adir Annabelle Wallis, Katie McGrath

Directed by: Guy Ritchie

Rating: 1 2

Legend has it that somewhere beneath England's green and pleasant land, King Arthur and his knights slumber, waiting to arise when their country most needs them.

Well, hell, Arthur: take a look around you.

And right on cue, here he is: blond, bad and beautiful astride a white charger, trusty sword Excalibur held aloft, sheepskin coat flapping like a football manager striding across a pitch... time out, time out, stop the bike. Wtf?

Charlie Hunnam as King Arthur. Wearing a football manager's sheepskin coat...

This is King Arthur but not as you know him. This is Arfer, a lad raised in a brothel after his evil uncle Vortigern killed his father and he was set adrift in a rowing boat, like Moses but Charlie Hunnam, as Christian Bale was too expensive/busy/wouldn't touch this project with a very long oar.

Weirdly, for a lad from ye olde knees up jellied eels Londinium. Arfer has an accent that verges oddly on the Brummie, as if he's auditioning for Peaky Blinders – or anything, really, that will save him from being in King Arthur: Legend of the Sword.

To be fair, if the whole film was an out-of-time Guy Ritchie romp, a Cockney kung fu King Arthur comedy populated by the likeable cast of likely lads he's pulled together (including Neil Maskell and Freddie Fox plus Aiden Gillen for added Game of Thrones kudos and Djimon Hounsou cuz he's cool), rippling with cheeky one-liners, gratuitous tap-aff shots and completely inappropriate but highly entertaining Eastern martial arts stunts, I'd have been quite happy. Even with the inclusion of a bunch of Vikings around 500 years too early, because, like, everything has to have Vikings in it these days or how can the hairdressing department have any fun?

But sadly, this winning (and, for an Arthurian sword and sorcery movie, pleasingly innovative) formula is forced to share screen time with a baffling plethora of sub-Lord of the Rings CGI nonsense, complete with pointless monsters, crumbling towers and a bunch of buildings that have absolutely no place in any visualisation of ye olde Englande, no matter how off the wall that vision may be. (A ziggurat? Really?)

Astrid Bergès-Frisbey as the Mage and Charlie Hunnam as King Arthur, with Excalibur

One of my (many) complaints about Antoine Fuqua's po-faced King Arthur of 2004 was that it stripped away the magic of the legend, leaving us with a rather dull story about battles. Here I'm begging Ritchie to take the damn magic away, because it's woefully presented and looks ridiculous. If the BBC's Merlin could get the balance between the myth, the magic, the romance and the camaraderie of the round table so very right, how can so many other films get it so very wrong? Here, incidentally, we don't even get Merlin, we get a female mage instead, carefully underplayed by Astrid Bergès-Frisbey as if she knows no-one gives a stuff about her character. Presumably she's only in the film because Ritchie had to put a woman in there somewhere and anyway, Christopher Lee's dead. (And while we're on the subject of Merlin, is it meta or coincidence that the series' femme fatale Morgana (Katie McGrath) puts in an early appearance as Vortigern's ill-fated wife?)

Jude Law as Bored Vortigern in King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

As for Jude Law as Vortigern (again, Jeremy Irons too busy/old/had some important paint he needed to watch dry), he looks thoroughly bored the whole way through, drawling his lines as if afraid he'll pull something if he stretches his acting chops too far. Then again, he is competing against the likes of, er, David Beckham – and it says little for the film that a footballer with a whiney voice can put in an appearance and not seem particularly out of place, or even that bad at acting...

And God love Charlie Hunnam (and God knows I do) he tries his best, and is at his best when he's allowed to be Jax, the charismatic (and insanely hot) but put-upon outlaw biker boss from Sons of Anarchy, a renegade leader of damaged and dangerous men (I waited two hours for him to say that Excalibur was his burden) and not a good looking man in a sheepskin coat standing awkwardly in front of a green screen while CGI snakes swirl about him.

All in all, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is an unholy mess, an enjoyable high jinx buddy movie crowbar-ed into a tedious Dungeons & Dragons fantasy. There's about 20 minutes of movie gold in here (watch the slick, striking, confidently cool time-lapse sequence in which Arfer grows up if you don't believe me) but it's strangled by all the nonsense.

King Arthur, if he's down there, is probably turning in his cave, because this Camelot is a very silly place indeed.

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