Starring: Charlie Hunnam, Jude Law, Astrid Berges-Frisbey, Djimon Hounsou, Aidan Gillen, Eric Bana
Rated PG-13 for Sequences of Violence and Action, Some Suggestive Content and Brief Strong Language
While one can debate which weekend signaled the exact start of the 2017 summer movie season, there's no doubt that it's in full swing now. That means we get movies that place more emphasis on marketing and special effects rather than plot or good writing. With "King Arthur: Legend of the Sword," Warner Bros. is hoping for a new franchise. While making a projection on its box office success (or lack thereof) on the night before its official opening may seem a bit premature, trust me when I say this: it ain't gonna happen. Especially when audiences realize what a dog this movie is. Warner Bros. apparently knows too, since marketing has been minimal and the buzz is negative.
Like most franchise starters, this is an origin story (here's a novel idea: start with the pieces already in place). Uther (Bana) is the King of England, which has lived peacefully with the magically inclined mages. That is until Mordred (Rob Knighton) comes along and uses dark magic to seize ultimate power. He is defeated by Uther, but Uther's brother Vortigern (Law) betrays him and takes the throne for himself. Fortunately Uther sent his young son away before Vortigern could kill him. Years later, the boy, named Arthur (Hunnam) has grown up, and once it's revealed that he can pull the legendary sword from the stone, the few that oppose Vortigern want Arthur to overthrow his uncle. Saying it is one thing. But Arthur cannot control the sword, dubbed "Excalibur."
The list of things that "King Arthur: Legend of the Sword" does wrong could go on for a mile. Chief among them is a poor choice of cinematographer. This is a dark, ugly, brooding film that in addition to being ridiculous and incoherent (not to mention boring), is impossible to see. There's atmosphere, and then there's this. Not only can the feeble script not support such a brooding tone (which doesn't fit to begin with), it's poorly done. Alone, it would be irritating. But with the 3D glasses, it's horrible. 3D splits the image, which results in the dimming of light. So you can guess what it's like to watch a horribly lighted movie in 3D.
The acting doesn't help matters either. Charlie Hunnam is one note, Jude Law is in full "take the money and run" mode, Astrid Berges-Frisbey's English is so bad she can barely sound out the words (Gong Li spoke better English in "Memoirs of a Geisha"), Djimon Hounsou is wasted, and Eric Bana is in the film little enough that it probably won't harm his career. It's hard to blame the cast, since the script is so weak. None of the cast has any character to play; they're just props for the dumb dialogue. The story makes little sense, and when it does, it's only because it's stealing from other, better movies.
Guy Ritchie has become a sort of cult director for film geeks, and I have yet to see why. I suppose his hyper-kinetic style can be considered "hip" and "offbeat" by some, but not by me. Ritchie employs so many camera tricks and storytelling techniques that "self-indulgent" is more appropriate than "style." The frantic rat-a-tat dialogue in some scenes is like bad David Mamet and the scenes where he visualizes future events as they talk about it in the present sounds a lot cooler than it plays out. And there are the usual offenders, like shaking the camera and frantically cutting.
I recently watch "The Lord of the Rings" yesterday, and boy, does this movie pale by comparison. It's dark, grungy and cheerless. What the film really lacks (apart from the plethora of necessities I wasted your time describing) is joy. This movie is not fun. It's meant to make enough bucks to justify a sequel or two so ten years or so down the line you can pick up a box set. If that happens, it will be in the discount DVD bin.
Oh wait, there is one element of praise. The score by Daniel Pemberton is appropriately badass.