Guy Ritchie turns classic tale into a theme-park ride
Why not put a legend in the hands of Guy Ritchie, right?
OK, in fairness, this wasn't the worst idea on paper. The British director of “Snatch” has already brought his signature kinetic style to one of his homeland's great characters.
His two “Sherlock” movies with Robert Downey Jr. were definitely not the sort of brainy affairs their inspiration would suggest, but dammit if they weren't fun.
His take on “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” also mined some unexpected cinematic thrills, despite its flaws.
But “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” takes the mythos of the king through the ringer of both Ritchie's style and the necessary wow of a summer blockbuster, and the results are mixed.
The movie takes a twist on the legend of Excalibur and the boy who would (spoiler alert!) wield it as king. This Arthur (Charlie Hunnam) is an orphaned boy growing up in the hard streets, eventually becoming the muscle at a brothel. (Problematic spoiler alert: Most of the female characters in the movie are prostitutes!)
But under the tyrannical rule of King Vortigern (Jude Law), the people of the kingdom still cling to the hope of their rightful king who can pull a sharp, shiny thing from a rock.
When Arthur, of course, turns out to be that man, he's imprisoned and begins an unlikely guerilla campaign that leads him to reluctantly face his destiny.
If you give Ritchie, who also co-wrote the screenplay, plenty of liberty with the legend of Arthur, he does set up some pretty epic summer-y epicness. An opening set piece of the king's army battling against that of a rival mage has a wow factor.
And, for the most part, so does Ritchie's rapid-fire style, even if he goes to his old well more than a few too many times.
It doesn't help that it's coming a week after the latest “Guardians of the Galaxy,” but the thing that's missing is that winking sense of humor that helps make the rest of it go down. “Sherlock” had that, but it also had Downey Jr.
Instead we've got Hunnam pulling his own sword from the stone for what has seemed like his inevitable place as a handsome leading man. He's fine, if a bit angsty. Law is better playing the villain he's always kind of been.
You can do worse for this sort of big-budget affair — and I'm sure we will later this summer — but “King Arthur” makes the legend pretty forgettable once the thrill fades.