Nerd Caliber
Nerd Lifestyle Magazine

TV/Movies & Music

May 10, 2017

King Arthur: Legend of the Snatch

Legend of the only black guy in 5th century Britain.

Do you revere Lord of the Rings?  How about Game of Thrones, Vikings, or anything by Zack Snyder? Do you think Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels or Snatch should be the template for virtually any new movie?

If so, check your ID; you might be Guy Ritchie.  

Ritchie’s latest film, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, draws heavily from better films and TV shows like these, without the upside of being either a loving homage or a fun wink-wink nod to the genre. It’s a confused, exhausting mess, the overstuffed subtraction-through-addition that happens when filmmakers don’t have any clear vision of what movie they want to make.  

The result is a largely joyless grey slog, an all-out assault on the eyes, ears, and brain occasionally interrupted by vintage Ritchie dialog. Its tenuous link to Arthurian legend is people saying “Arthur,” “Excalibur” and “Camelot” — remove them from the script and it could easily be named “Generic CGI Swords-and-Sorcery Fantasy Epic.” It isn’t grim enough to be truly dark, bleak enough to be black comedy, or campy enough to be corny fun.  

The story, such as it is, follows the faintest outlines of the well-known Arthurian saga, while adding family drama, massive CGI monsters and battles, and a patina of pseudo-modern “retelling.” Before he dies, King Uther (Eric Bana) embeds the sword Excalibur in stone. There’s some visual exposition involving an evil sorcerer and a platoon of truly titanic war elephants that bear an uncanny resemblance to Peter Jackson’s oliphants. Uther sends his son, the wee toddler Arthur, floating downriver, where he is found and taken in by a group of prostitutes. A coming-of-age montage featuring gold coins, regular beatings, and Ritchie’s trademark rapid-fire editing, gets us to the 20-something Arthur.

Legend of the bad costume design.

Legend of the bad costume design.

Played by a frequently shirtless Charlie Hunnam, Art is running the brothel where he grew up, along with his crew of back-alley gangsters with improbable names like Wet Stick and Back Lack. When he strong-arms a group of Vikings whose protection racket has more juice than his, he’s forced to flee, where he’s picked up by soldiers and forced to try dislodging Excalibur. After pulling the sword, he’s brought before the king, Vortigern (Jude Law) for a public execution. What follows is a Robin Hood story of virtuous outlaw versus power-hungry usurper, complete with a ragtag band of misfits, improbable escapes, uncanny archery, unraveling of deep secrets, and battles galore. The movie closes with a less-than-subtle setup for the next installment in a planned six-movie franchise.

King Arthur is at its best when it goes small, full of Ritchie’s wise-ass Jack-the-Lads, fast-talking their way out of trouble. The bang-bang sleight-of-hand yarn Arthur and his crew spins to bamboozle a nosy enforcer is vintage Ritchie, energetic, witty and wry. Unfortunately, characters talking like East End gangsters meshes badly with standard pseudo-medieval speak. If it had fully embraced the medieval-meets-modern vibe, it could have been an entertaining, campy dramedy a la the BBC TV series Robin Hood. And if Law played Vortigern as a bit more of a mustache-twirling cartoon villain, he would have been as wickedly fun as Keith Allen’s Sheriff of Nottingham.  

It’s nice to see a bit of diversity in what could easily have been an all-white cast. Djimon Hounsou is a solid presence as Bedivere, and Tom Wu is fun (if inexplicable, in medieval London) as kung fu master George. Sadly, King Arthur fails the Bechdel Test. There are several female characters, but only Guinevere (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey) is more than a cursory presence or a minor plot point. Guinevere is re-cast in the traditional Merlin role, typically a major player in Arthurian movies, but she’s largely relegated to the shadows — a spooky, witchy presence people fear.

Visually, King Arthur is tedious. The color palette is mainly high-contrast greys and oversaturated HDR, even during flyovers of stunningly lush Welsh landscapes.  The fight scenes are muddy and disorienting. The CGI antagonist looks like a flagrant ripoff of a well-known Frank Frazetta painting, though the roiling smoke-and-fire cloak effect is extremely cool.  The visual design team never met a cheesy 3D effect it didn’t abuse.  Anything and everything pops off the screen; spears, arrows, rubble, ashes, and more are hurled into the crowd. It’s flagrant and gratuitous. The score is equally painful, an ear-splitting mix of Inception-style deep rumble, Celtic drums, and modern Irish song.  

As a cosplayer who appreciates great costume design, I was nonplussed by the absurd mashup of clothing styles and eras. Women in flowing Renaissance dresses stand next to Highland pipers in full Rob Roy garb. Standard-issue hipster knit caps abound. King Vortigern dresses like Jonathan Rhys Meyers in The Tudors, while Arthur wears a shearling duster that could come from any Western clothing store. It’s Ren Faire Chic with a huge budget.

If you enjoy loud, incoherent, overstuffed action-adventure CGI extravaganzas, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword might be the summer blockbuster you’re looking for. If you prefer your Arthurian fare with a bit of historical accuracy, a hint of consistent tone, a dash of fun, or even cohesive costume design, watch Monty Python and the Holy Grail.  

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword  (Warner Bros., PG-13) Grade: D+

About the Author

Gregg "Wonderllama" Snider



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