King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword

Cert 12A

★ ★ 

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YOU’D think by now that Guy Ritchie would have long abandoned the trademark cockney geezer antics that made his name back in the late 1990s and early 2000s with Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch.

But alas, for this new take on the timeworn fantasy legend he has reached into the back of the cupboard, dusted off that bag of tricks and melded them with modern, flashy and overbearing action movie aesthetics.

This particular telling of the legend starts when King Uther (Eric Bana), father to the infant Arthur, is slain and control seized by his brother and moustache-twirling all around baddie Vortigern (Jude Law), who uses a sacrifice-craving creature in the castle’s watery underground pit to fuel his mythical powers.

We then jump forward to see Arthur’s upbringing in a brothel as he trains in the art of combat so that he can handle himself on the mean streets of Londinium. Part of the youngster's education includes running a small criminal empire with a tight crew of eternally loyal scallywags (played by the likes of Neil Maskell and Craig McGinlay) who might as well be singing Knees Up Mother Brown as they carry out their various escapades.

Meanwhile, the ever power-hungry King Vortigern is amassing a great army but doesn’t yet have all the power he needs. When the famed sword Excalibur that the King desires suddenly reappears, Arthur discovers he’s the only one who can remove it from the stone, bringing back memories he had long forgotten and giving him the potential power to stop Vortigern for good.

Ritchie’s attempt to handle the Arthurian legend with modernised hands is on the surface an intriguing one as it promises a different take on the kind of film we’ve seen executed by-the-numbers and ad nauseum. But in practice the rockstar, CGI-engulfed, ADD editing-infested attitude utterly jars with the old world tale of grubby swordplay and mythical sorcery.

The narrative feels at once disjointed and sluggish, the action without any real weight to it or the creativity to at least make it diverting or entertaining – Ritchie’s obsession with the 300-esque technique of making the action go really fast then really slow is at its dull worst here – and the relentless banter lacks the punchy wit of Ritchie’s better crime caper days.

Many of the performances do elevate the material, namely Charlie Hunnam who brings a certain kind of laddish charisma to the lead role, Djimon Hounsou as Arthur’s commanding but always reluctant mentor Bedivere and Law who admirably scowls and shouts his way to the extremes of the film’s primo, rather one-note villain.

But for every effective performance there’s another to distract, such as one heck of a bizarre inclusion of David Beckham as a bossy soldier. Or simply remind you of other similar and far better material, in the case of Aidan Gillen rehashing his Lord Baelish from Game Of Thrones, a series the film so desperately tries and fails to emulate.

It’s not a great film for female roles either, as they are relegated to prostitutes, the means to attain mythological strength, whimpering damsels in distress or peculiarly underwritten purveyors of magical powers, as exemplified in The Mage (Astrid Berges-Frisbey).

Trying to bring something new to the roundtable is nothing to dismiss easily; Ritchie’s take on the material certainly hacks and slashes its own personality into the wood. But there’s a certain kind of smarmy, pleased-with-itself obnoxiousness about the whole thing as it throws everything at the wall just to see what sticks. To quote Monty Python And The Holy Grail, on second thoughts let’s not go to Camelot, it is a silly place.