By the gods! King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, Guy Ritchie’s re-work of the classic British legend, opens mid-battle in a CGI-intensive fury that finds giant elephants, shape-shifting smoke monsters, flaming towers and who the hell knows!
When the dust settles, we learn that at this gloomy castle (saddest Camelot ever), Vortigern (Jude Law, set to “salty ham”) has usurped the crown from his brother, who has shipped his toddler son, Arthur, away in a boat, like a slightly more modern Moses. After a flashback depicting his raffish upbringing among thieves, whores and kung-fu masters in Londinium, we meet the buff and glistening grown-up Arthur (Charlie Hunnam).
Back at Camelot, a plumbing issue reveals a sword stuck in a rock. Arthur and some streetwise Londiniumers wind up at the castle, where David Beckham (not a typo) is guarding the sword-in-rock. Becks mocks Arthur, who nonetheless promptly pulls out the sword. Some stuff about a revolt, blah blah, then Arthur goes to fulfill his destiny in the Darklands. More swords and giant snakes.
If you don’t have much time, it’s worth noting that you won’t waste any of it caring for anybody in this film. It occasionally suggests a Band of Bros vibe, but then it triples down on the one hot guy and his even hotter sword (really, it glows). Not much work here for women — Astrid Bergès-Frisbey plays the mage who helps Arthur, and a few other actresses turn up in cameos as prostitutes (with hearts of gold, natch), as part of a human-eel creature or as the Lady in the Lake.
Ritchie brings his usual bag of razzamatazz — slow-mo, choppy editing, crappy music — but Arthur is more like a comic book enchanted to yell at you than an entertaining comedic actioner. Viewers could make a drinking game out of all the fantasy tropes and characters that remind you of other movies. (Or TV: When Arthur gathers his dudes around his fancy carved table, it’s Sons of Anarchy all over again.) Much of this film felt underdeveloped, overstuffed and incoherent, but at least it winds up someplace familiar: two guys fighting for control of a penis-shaped tower.
All this hot garbage is too much for even the bulging shoulders of Hunnam. He can’t shake the effect that his pretty face and fine physique — clad in various leathers, quilted jackets and fur-trimmed capes — are actually in service of some edgy European fashion campaign: “Now, drench this fur coat in mud, and smolder … bellissimo!” Admittedly, Hunnam looks fantastic when stylishly brooding and raging out in slow motion. This movie is terrible, but I just might buy that mud-covered coat.