While there are many interpretations of the “King Arthur” legend, if the viewer, like me, is most familiar with “The Once and Future King” (book by T.H. White) narrative, the new eponymous Guy Ritchie-directed film will likely leave you scratching your head. As you sit in semi-darkness with the smell of old popcorn lingering in your nostrils, your fingers will get quite a workout as you watch the lead, Charlie Hunnam, strut, pose and posture his way through the movie. He’s a convincing enough King Arthur, I suppose, if you’re expecting a vintage Guy Ritchie-directed movie. The subtitle is “Legend of the Sword,” but it could also be called “The Prequel to the Actual Kingship.” because even though Charlie grasps the sword early on, he still has to battle his evil uncle (Jude Law) for the right to reign until the credits.
I always thought that King Arthur, while orphaned at an early age and never knowing his parents, still managed to have a non-traumatic enough youth, what with having a kindly foster dad and a magician for a tutor who transformed him into all kinds of beasts and birds and…okay, scratch that. Here there are many CGI-fantastical beasts and birds, but no one transfigures themselves. Instead Charlie witnesses the death of his parents (which will haunt him in flashbacks for most of the movie) by Jude as a small boy and takes refuge in a boat which drifts down the river to a brothel in a bustling city. He is raised by the women there with no knowledge of his origins, until he is grown. Then, when he’s taken in by a group of dynamic knights-to-be, including Tom Wu (“Kung Fu George,” yes, really), Djimon Hounsou, Aiden Gillen and a female mage (Astrid Berges-Frisbey). At first, you wonder if she’s going to be a love interest (her name is Guinevere), but no, there isn’t time for that. After he gets his “but you’re a wizard!” moment, he spends about fifteen minutes protesting and saying he doesn’t want the job of leading the “Resistance” (yes, really), but eventually, Charlie caves and agrees to be their leader.
To prepare for battle, Charlie visits a creepy island and slays a great many fantastical creatures. He also winds up having to meet with Jude bare-handed, after Jude manages to ensnare Charlie’s friend’s little boy. Eventually, he gets to fight Jude with his magical sword, Excalibur, but is also forced to grapple with flashbacks as he does so. Jude winds up having some kind of magical power that allows him to glow like hot coals as he fights. Why Charlie doesn’t just dump a bucket of water on him, like Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz,” I do not know. Probably not as dramatic as the way Charlie actually defeats Jude. In the end, everything works out, and Charlie shows off his new Round Table, remarking “Why have enemies, when you can have friends?” It’s a good question, and the viewer might wonder, as he or she watches the movie, “why watch another “King Arthur” remake when you could be doing….pretty much anything else?” The film is long on action sequences and special effects, and short on character development. If you want to watch a prime summer movie blockbuster, however, you could do worse.