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FILM REVIEW: King Arthur: Legend of the Sword - 'a pantomime for football hooligans'

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (12A)
Running time 2hr 6min
Rating **

IF Nuts magazine were to muster the budget for a medieval fantasy flick, the result would probably look a lot like King Arthur:
Legend of the Sword. With its lacklustre death metal vibe (and, as is obligatory with this type of film, its total disregard for the actual Arthurian canon), this is ‘blockbuster’ cinema at its most loutish and ludicrous, panto for footie hooligans; having flopped (bigly) internationally, it’s already looking like one of 2017’s prime Razzie contenders.

Does it deserve all this? In fairness, nobody who’s seen the trailer (set to a Led Zep face-melter) should come to this with any illusions as to what they’re in for – it’s a Guy Ritchie joint through-and-through, the king of British geezer-ism shedding blood and tears to deliver his very own Fellowship of the Ring (this, by the way, DEFINITELY isn’t meant to be a standalone film, though it’s doubtful we’ll ever see a sequel). In less serious hands, this might have carried itself along on the back of its own nonsensicality, and there are some fun touches here – Jude Law, the movie’s Big Name™ (Idris Elba was, thankfully, passed over), makes a splash as the evil Vortigern, played to deadpan effect, even as the likes of David Beckham, in a much-lambasted cameo, struggle to see the bright side. Bizarrely, Ritchie wants to pass this as an Arthur movie without a Merlin analogue, but Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey’s Mage, the apparent stand-in, gets the best scenes, casting an air of much-needed mystery and sensuousness over the laddishness espoused by King Arthur (Charlie Hunnam) and his Animal House.

But the film suffers from a crippling sense of anomalousness. Not only is it kitschy in the extreme (who, exactly, was asking for a new Arthur franchise?), it’s smug in its own kitschiness, right down to the drab, wind-swept art direction. It’s as if Ritchie is trying to be obsolete, trying to make a movie that will turn back Hollywood’s clock to whatever decade in which this might have passed as a middling summer hit (anywhere from the 2000s to the ’70s – yes, it really is that unfocused). It’s a boy’s own film of the highest order, shot through with a throbbing, lurid masculinity; though multi-dimensionality might’ve been a hard ask of this team (remember Butler’s inescapable six-pack in 300?), the women get the bad end of this bad stick, presented as an endless, nameless succession of chaste pixies and tavern-wenches. Even Bergès-Frisbey’s character doesn’t have a proper name.

At the very least, Legend of the Sword is consistent, with a pacing that, at the best of times, temporarily redeems it of its overriding pointlessness; the battles are about as loud and punchy as we could’ve hoped, and it’s nice to see a live-action
sword-in-the-stone sequence (even if its allegiance to the source material is, as ever, perfectly questionable). But imminent to its failure at the box office is a grain of hopeful truth – audiences are demanding more of studios, and a picture this exquisitely bland just isn’t going to cut it anymore.

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