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"KING ARTHUR: LEGEND OF THE SWORD"
(2017) (Charlie Hunnam, Jude Law) (PG-13)


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QUICK TAKE:
Adventure: A retelling and reimagining of the King Arthur legend, in which a young commoner learns it is his destiny to claim a mythic sword and bring down an evil monarch.
PLOT:
In the kingdom of Camelot, King Uther (ERIC BANA) defends his people by wielding the mythic sword Excalibur, which was forged by Merlin the Magician. But his own brother, Vortigern (JUDE LAW), is obsessed with power and plots against him to seize the throne. He even sacrifices his wife to possess a dark magic that will help him counteract Excalibur. After murdering both Uther and his wife, he is unable to kill their son, who is put in a boat and sent upriver where he is discovered by some prostitutes in the tough town of Londinium and raised in a brothel.

He is named Arthur (CHARLIE HUNNAM), and he grows up while learning to become a thief, a fighter, and a rogue. Meanwhile, Vortigern retains power throughout those years, but fears the offspring of his brother who may be able to pull Excalibur from the stone in which it was embedded upon Uther's death. After testing the men of the kingdom to try and dislodge the blade, Arthur soon takes his shot and does so easily. Vortigern immediately orders his execution, but Arthur rescued by his father's old chief lieutenant, Bedivere (DJIMON HOUNSOU), and The Mage (ASTRID BERGES-FRISBEY), a sorceress and the last of her kind.

They eventually team up with such other rebels as Bill (AIDAN GILLEN), Back Lack (NEIL MASKELL), Wet Stick (KINGSLEY BEN-ADIR), and Rubio (FREDDIE FOX). Arthur is reluctant to accept his destiny as the future king of Camelot, but after seeing the suffering of his people and having repeated visions of his father and mother being slain by his uncle, he vows revenge.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
"King Arthur: Legend of the Sword" is one of those examples of a movie that gets so much right -- and what it gets right is SO good -- that many people will forgive its goofy flaws. I'm one of those people. This is a fun and visually inventive retelling of the Arthurian legend, an origin story that predates such things as the quest for the Holy Grail, Guinevere, Lancelot, and so forth. If it's successful at the box office, at least four additional movies are planned to explore all those.

For now, we have this flick in which Charlie Hunnam again tries to avoid Taylor Kitsch/Jai Courtney status as he plays the leading man role once more. You really don't remember him from "Pacific Rim," and you should remember him from "The Lost City of Z." Here, he is a great physical presence as the title character. But it is a surprisingly sexless take on the character, as the film is all about him challenging for the throne of Camelot if he can overcome his unfortunate upbringing. Indeed, after his evil uncle (Jude Law) murders his good king and queen parents, Arthur is sent down-river Moses style where he is discovered by some prostitutes (NOT Moses style) and raised in a brothel.

Arthur comes of age with a front-row seat to brutality, petty crime, and the evils of a power-mad king. When he is brought to Camelot and is the only man in the kingdom to be able to remove the fabled sword Excalibur from its stone, he soon comes to realize he has a destiny bigger than anything he can imagine. He is rescued from execution by a sorceress named The Mage (Astrid Berges-Frisbey) and his father's former top lieutenant, Bevidere (Djimon Hounsou), and pressed to become the rebellion leader they've always waited for.

OK, first the good. Excalibur is a fantastic movie weapon! Wow, is it cool in this film. It's on the level of Luke Skywalker's lightsaber from "Star Wars," the Green Destiny from "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," and the underrated three-pronged blade that Lee Horsley wields in 1982's "The Sword and the Sorcerer." When Arthur is finally able to harness its power and use it as his father once did, he does some very special things with it. And director Guy Ritchie's kinetic action style melds perfectly in these sequences, going from dramatic slo-mo to super-fast blur and back again.

I enjoyed the light touch employed throughout, too. The PG-13 rating keeps it from becoming "Game of Thrones" gruesome. And most of the characters look clean and cool throughout rather than looking like they just got dragged through muddy mosh pits at some mid-1990s grunge concert. There's a good bit of humor. In fact, there should have been more. It's hard when there is the memory of classic Monty Python and "Spamalot" always there in the corners of the mind. You practically want to yell back at the screen things like, "Get up, Arthur! It's just a flesh wound!" But the balance is pretty good here.

Now the bad. My biggest gripe is that Ritchie and his screenwriting team keep Arthur a reluctant hero for way, WAY too long in this movie. You know eventually the man is going to rise up and take arms against the kingdom and lead the rebellion. You don't need a good hour and 45 minutes of him refusing Excalibur, ignoring the people's suffering, resisting all memories of his parents' murder, and telling all who will listen "I'm NOT The Man!" Of course, he's The Man! He WILL be King Arthur! Swash that buckle, and buckle that swash! Get to Daring Do! Or is it Derring-Do? That spelling never made sense to me.

I digress. Something else that didn't make sense to me was some of the spotty casting. Hunnam is solid in the lead, and Aidan Gillen is terrific as a cocky bowman named Mike who can hit targets with his bow and arrow from over a football field away. But yikes! Berges-Frisbey as The Mage is just terrible. Her line readings sound like she's reading copy in a hostage video. English is clearly not her first language. But, man, couldn't somebody have dubbed her a la Andie MacDowell in the old "Greystoke" Tarzan flick? Jude Law is a surprisingly ineffective antagonist for the most part, too. You never really fear him. And there is very little glee in his villainy.

So, yes, a bit of a hit-or-miss movie. But the climax is cool. Bana is really great in essentially the dying mentor/father/father figure Liam Neeson role. And it made me want to see the second film in this planned series. I hope Ritchie and Co. get the chance. I give this first effort a 6 out of 10. (T. Durgin)




Reviewed May 10, 2017 / Posted May 12, 2017


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