Deep into Guy Ritchie’s “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword,” a bad guy who we’ve never met before informs Arthur (Charlie Hunnam) and his mates that they’d better be at the castle before dark if they want to see “the boy” and “the girl” again. It’s one of those harmless, up-the-stakes clichés that’s all too common in action movies, but in the flawed yet amusing “King Arthur,” it unwittingly left me baffled. “Which girl?” I wondered, sincerely doubting that this was the intended effect.
At this point there are two options: The Mage, a strange animal-controlling sorceress who we recently saw with a knife at her throat, or Maggie, who over the course of the movie is so underdeveloped that at different points I’d thought she was Arthur’s presumed-to-be-dead mother or the evil King Vortigern’s wife. (She’s neither.) It’s a strange thing for a movie that is this packed to the brim with dialogue and clever exposition to have managed to so insufficiently explain a supposed key player. The film is somehow both overwritten and underwritten.
And yet “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” is reasonably entertaining with its CGI-laden summer nonsense, stuffed with mystical beasts, vulgar action and delicious scenery chewing from Jude Law as Vortigern.
This Arthur was raised in a brothel after seeing his mother and father, King Uther (Eric Bana), killed in a coup. A speed-induced montage later and Arthur is a fully grown and martial arts trained man who is a street-wise protector of the brothel’s prostitutes. His Uncle Vortigern, who sold his soul to get the crown, rules Camelot. But Vortigern can’t access his full powers without the Excalibur sword, which, as you know, is stuck in a rock. This leads Vortigern to round up every man of Arthur’s age to find the remaining heir.
Hunnam’s Arthur is a wise-cracking, sensitive brute, who neither seeks nor wants power of any kind. What he does want is never really explored beyond the fact that he cares about his friends and feels some sort of obligation to protect the weak. But he eventually gets on board with his birthright — partly to avenge his father’s death and partly because a group of outlaws sort of make him do it. An Arthur for the millennial generation perhaps?
Indeed, Ritchie’s “King Arthur” seems specifically designed to appeal to the “Game of Thrones” crowd and definitely not to anyone who has any deep reverence for the classic tale. If that’s a compromise you’re willing to make, there are some genuinely compelling and innovative sequences of the action and dialogue variety (and a jarring David Beckham cameo).
King Arthur: Legend of the Sword
Rated: PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, some suggestive content and brief strong language. Starring: Charlie Hunnam, Astrid Bergès-Frisbey, Jude Law. Director: Guy Ritchie. Running time: 126 minutes. Theaters: Edwards 21 (2D, 3D), Edwards 9 (2D, 3D), Edwards 14 (2D, 3D), Edwards 12 (2D, 3D), Majestic 18 (2D, 3D), Village Cinema.