Guy Richie wears his influences on his sleeve in Galfridian geezer romp “King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword”. He’s clearly seen “The Lord Of The Rings”, kept up to date with “Game Of Thrones” and avidly watched BBC TV’s “Merlin”. He’s even found time to take in Queen’s classic “Radio Ga Ga” video. All of these properties are ground up in the mockney mill of Richie’s signature style to produce an ersatz mythical mash-up that plays fast and loose with the legends of King Arthur and the Knights Of The Round Table.
When Uther Pendragon (Eric Bana) is betrayed and murdered by his brother Vortigern (Jude Law), his young son escapes down river, growing up on the streets of Londinium oblivious to his true heritage. But as Vortigern’s power grows, so too does the whispered legend of the born King and Arthur (Charlie Hunnan) finds himself forced to embrace his destiny when he pulls Excalibur from the stone.
There’s been an unfair pre-emptive backlash against this film and while it’s far from great, it’s also quite a lot of fun. Yes, your tolerance for shifting much of Arthur’s story away from Camelot in favour of ‘Lahndinium’ will factor in how much you enjoy this cheesy slice of pulp chivalry and the same ironic modernist twist which worked well for Sherlock Holmes’ 19th century setting are a little more awkward here but it’s still all very amusing in a blokey sort of way.
Hunnan is perfectly serviceable as the would-be born king but it’s Jude Law who’s clearly having the most fun, chewing the scenery with gleeful abandon as the dark sorcerer king. Clearly leaving room for a sequel we’re very unlikely to get, few of the ‘big name’ knights turn up in this instalment although we do get Bedivere (Djimon Hounsou) and Percival (Craig McGinlay) while Aiden Gillan pops up as former courtier turned renegade ‘Goosefat’ Bill and enjoys a long overdue figurative “Queer As Folk” reunion with Hunnan. Disappointingly, there’s barely a hint of Merlin (and no sign of Tim the Sorcerer) but there’s magical mumbo jumbo aplenty thanks to the Mage (Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey) who helps Arthur to embrace his fate. David Beckham’s much-publicised cameo isn’t terrible but it isn’t very good either, too long to be just an amusing nod to the audience, too short to be of any real point.
Visually, Richie manages to bring a suitably epic grandeur to everything but thanks to the muddy grey and brown palate and a shoddy post-production conversion, it’s a must-not-see-in-3D. Although there’s clearly an ambition for a family friendly franchise, the film may have worked better with a higher certification, allowing the action scenes to be more brutal and bloody. There may even be a harder director’s cut lurking in the background, but surely a studio as venerable as Warner Brothers wouldn’t stoop to releasing a harder, more violent version of a movie which failed to live up to box office expectations, would it?