King Arthur: Legend of the Sword review

This is not quite the King Arthur legend we all read about when we were children. There's no Lancelot or Guinevere, Merlin is only mentioned in passing and Arthur turns out to be a bit of an East End geezer whose surname is possibly Daley. Yup, this is very much Guy Ritchie's King Arfur.

A pre-credit sequence overstuffed with CGI (the entire film is overstuffed with CGI) outlines how evil Vortigern (Jude Law) overthrows British king Uther Pendragon (Eric Bana), killing him and his missus, and how their young son Arthur manages to escape and make his way to Londinium, wherre he is taken in and raised by prostitutes. Cut to some years later and a now-adult Arthur (Charlie Hunnam) is a bit of a thug, running a gang of thieves and scoundrels who rule the East End with an iron fist. But as he is the rightful heir to the English throse, Arthur is still being hunted by his uncle Vortigern...

Over the years, King Arthur has been played by many great actors – from Mel Ferrer in 1953’s Knights of the Round Table and Richard Harris in 1967’s Camelot to Sean Connery, Clive Owen, Nigel Terry, Edward Fox and even Monty Python's Graham Chapman. Now joining that esteemed list is the bland, charisma-free Charlie Hunnam, who fails to make any real impact in the title role. Better is Jude Law (who we last saw playing a pope) as his nasty uncle, gleefully chewing the scenery every chance he gets. The rest of the cast are OK – best of the lot, among all the lads, is Astrid Berges-Frisbey as the unnamed, enigmatic Merlin replacement known simply as The Mage – but as with Hunnam, none of the boys makes any real impact; the only actor you end up wanting more of is Eric Bana, whose appearance as Arthur's dad is all-too brief.

Those familiar with Ritchie's previous works will find his usual tropes here – laddish dialogue, laddish humour and laddish behaviour coupled with an abundance of flashbacks and slo-mo. That coupled with the over-reliance on CGI – from giant CGI elephants to massive CGI battles and destruction to giant CGI snakes – swamps the narrative and makes the story a muddled mess. None of the familiar Arthurian beats we all know and love are presnet in the film – except for the classic "pulling the sword Excalibur from the stone" moment, which is ruined by a woefully-poor performance from squeaky-voiced soccer player David Beckahm; his appearance raised the most laughs of the entire film.

This is supposed to be the first of a series of King Arthur films being planned by Ritchie, but after its box office failure in the US (where it surprisingly opened a week before the UK) plans for a franchise are likely to be shelved. King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is an overlong, overstuffed and overwrought mess that simply makes you want to sit down and watch Monty Python and the Holy Grail yet again.

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Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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