Few opening credits feel quite so redundantly unnecessary as the appearance of ‘a Guy Ritchie film’ does at the end of King Arthur: Legend of the Sword‘s preluding five minutes. Already, by this early stage in what can only be described as a bonkers romp into the thickets of Arthurian legend, Ritchie has slam dunked a checklist of his signature motifs. Whilst giant elephants and villainous Magi stampeding on a pseudo-medieval castle, led by bad-egg wizard (Volde)Mordred, may not be typical of the Snatch and Sherlock Holmes director’s oeuvre, a flippant attitude to real time motion and laddish vibe are both very much present and correct.
Ritchie’s retelling of the King Arthur story opens with an eye-roll-inspiring scrawl to establish the set up (all wizards and wars and whatever), before launching into a grimly choreographed Lord of the Rings-y battle sequence – including the aforementioned monster mammals – of chaos and random nose-bleeds. Eric Bana is Uther Pendragon, King of Camelot, in these early scenes: a decent bloke intent on doing right by his people and protecting ‘is trouble an’ strife (wife) and little nipper, Arthur (the regionalism of the accents in King Arthur are a hoot). One table-based exposition dump later and Uther has set out to vanquish Mordred (Rob Knighton), whilst his backstabbing brother, Vortigan (Jude Law), precedes to sacrifice his wife (a thanklessly cast Kate McGrath) for reasons that will become clear later. Ish.
With the situation going rather up s**t creek for Uther, he hurries his Queen (a similarly disposable debut for Poppy Delevigne) and heir (Oliver Barker) to a readied escape boat but is unable to prevent the former being bumped off, leaving the latter to float away downriver, Moses-like, to be found and raised by the lowlives of Londinium. Cue: ramped up montage of topless brawling, prostitutes and dodgy deals to represent Arthur growing up to become cocky beefcake Charlie Hunnam – in a better performance than this deserves. Looking for all the world like a Sik Silk model, garbed in a plentiful variety of grandad tops and cardigans, complete with hair styled presumably with VOlde5 wax, Hunnam’s Arthur struts around as a guardian to the brothel, with fingers in lots of pies.
Meanwhile, Vortigan has taken the throne and leads his kingdom with a strong and stable leadership – one intent on destroying it for no apparent reason. When a magical sword of prophecy appears trapped within a stone, however, he is forewarned by a cross between Jabba the Hut, Ursula from The Little Mermaid and Johnny Vegas that the person who is able to pull that sword from that stone will be his vanquisher. Arthur is a man who’s not afraid to get his hands dirty – a good job given that he apparently keeps his fingers semi-permanently in pastry – but has up to now avoided having a go at pulling the sword in the stone. It is fortuitous for the sake of the plot, then, that he is forced to do just that and – spoiler – is successful in doing so. Etc. etc. blah, blah, blah.
Holding back from total cynicism, it is safe to say that King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is both dreadful and absolutely not the first in a Marvel imitating extended universe franchise, as was touted in Ritchie’s extensive promotion. That said, homoerotic hogwash that the film undeniably is, it is one that does prove, at times, to be infectious guff of the sort that somehow transcends its blatant awfulness to achieve an ascended magnificence in its own sheer bonkersness. For all its many faults, Ritchie’s script, co-penned by Lionel Wigram and Joby Harold, deserves recognition for attainting hilarity both intensionally and, more often, unintentionally. Take the pretty dire cameo by David Beckham, for instance, in which the former footballing giant is given the line: ‘Ten digits, round the blunt bit, give it a tug’. In case such analogy was not already crystal clear, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword revolves almost entirely around the concept that the sword is itself a glaringly unsubtle metaphor for male sexual organs and the alpha status carried therein. ‘What we are interested in,’ says another resistance fighter later, ‘is what you can do with that sword’.
Fundamentally a blokes-own adventure, Ritchie’s adaptation of the story reimagines the mythical King of legend as undergoing a metaphysical puberty in which he attempts to control and wield his unpredictable WMD. Do try not to cry with laughter at the orgasmic climax in which Arthur realises its potential. Quote: ‘Come on lads. Chop chop!’. It sags something awful in the middle but in its delirious peaks, King Arthur is a veritable riot of stupidity.