King Arthur: Legend of the Sword isn't a movie as much as a feature length montage of bastardized lore and rejected Game of Thrones pitches.
Director Guy Ritchie brings his aggressively kinetic style to a myth in need of a makeover — but not this one. So little of Arthurian legend is preserved that this could be any blade swinger since Conan. No Guinevere, minimal Mordred and Merlin gets only a mention. Not a lotta Camelot.
What we get is a setup for a presumed franchise that may get around to them later. King Arthur: Legend of the Sword isn't entirely terrible; at times, Ritchie balances mythology and irreverence as well as he did with Sherlock Holmes. There's an appealing whiff of cheese to a few not-so-special effects.
Mostly, Ritchie's movie is a confused parade of medieval intrigue, holding interest only when Jude Law's villainous Vortigern is on screen. Never mind that his name sounds like an allergy med. Vortigern is cold blooded, straight up. Lesson learned: Never accept a hug from Jude Law.
Now that's how King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is to be enjoyed, as a snark generator unfolding in real time. Ritchie's old-world characters speak like Cockney riffraff, begging a title change to Lock, Stock and a Few Smoking Arrows. Charlie Hunnam in the title role exudes a certain Hemsworthian swagger (Liam, not Chris).
See, it's easy and a worthwhile distraction from plot-throttling flashes forward and back that chronologically would be more decipherable. Time isn't shuffled; it's pureed.
Ritchie instills Vortigern as a power mad king forced to put his crown up for grabs when the Excalibur stone surfaces. How the sword got there is another story of Vortigern's evil to which Ritchie will digress later, one of the screenplay's wiser touches.
Arthur's hard knock rise from brothel orphan to kung fu hunk is depicted in umpteen dozen edits when just a few would do. Once Arthur pulls the enchanted sword from the stone, he's a marked man by Vortigern. Arthur assembles a ragtag guerrilla army with a supernatural Mage (Astrid Berges-Frisbey) for good measure and long-range migraines.
Betrayals are set, spells are cast and Arthur struggles to wrap his hands and head around Excalibur, fainting like a front-row Belieber for starters. There are daddy issues to confront, vengeance to wreck, the usual stuff.
Meanwhile, I'm waiting for more of those gigantic remote controlled elephants with wrecking balls strapped to their trunks. Or that can of she-devil worms Vortigern opens, an undulating pool of tentacles with three faces. I'd watch Hunnam take another snake bite to the neck, setting off hallucinations of megabats and rodents of highly unusual size.
King Arthur: Legend of the Sword needs more such imaginative passages and a director willing to slow his roll once in a while, let images breathe like the final, recognizable shot here. But you know what? It looks just like a pizza with a slice cut out.
Contact Steve Persall at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.