Movie review: ‘King Arthur: Legend of the Sword’

Strong cast not enough to uphold film

The age-old Arthurian myth cycle has given rise to countless poems, stories, novels, plays and movies — not to mention operas, paintings and at least one obscure rock album.

But the new Guy Ritchie film was, shall we say, uninspired by it.

And I do mean “uninspired.”

In the first place, “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” makes a radical departure from this well-known body of tales, bearing almost no similarity to any of it. Worse yet, it’s among the most tedious, insipid, brain-deadening movies I have ever seen. More than once I had to exert herculean will-power not to simply get up and walk out.

This is surprising in an era when it’s customary to cleverly reboot some age-old chestnut — as director Ritchie himself did with Robert Downey in the two recent Sherlock Holmes movies.

But the script utterly fails him here, retaining only the famous sword-in-the-stone incident, while instead giving the long-awaited young regent a tiresome adversary named Vortigern — another figure from British legends who has never had much connection with Arthur.

This would not necessarily be a problem except that A) the sword-pulling episode generates absolutely zero interest; and B) the evil Vortigern, plus Arthur’s quest for vengeance on him, is really all this film can give us in place of Merlin, Gawain, the Holy Grail, Guenevere and Lancelot, Tristan and Isolde and all the other magic these tales had to offer.

At 126 minutes, “Legend of the Sword” crawls with leaden lifelessness through a story with no complexity, no nuance, no surprises and very little closure at the end. Honestly, if they were going to rewrite the whole thing, couldn’t they have come up with something smarter than this?

The film looks handsome, and its cast is strong, with Charlie Hunnam (TV’s “Sons of Anarchy”) as Arthur, Jude Law as Vortigern and a host of fine support including Eric Bana, Djimon Hounsou and Aiden Gillen.

But the fight scenes are crowded, boring and too dark; that latter problem is common with 3-D movies, most of which don’t make any better use of the added dimension than this film does. In fact, it often seems to me that 3-D has no other effect than to drain an extra three or four bucks from each poor soul who steps up to the box office.

The film’s conclusion points toward a sequel, but as I fled the theater without even sitting through the credits as I usually do, I couldn’t help hoping that this wannabe franchise would die a quick and quiet death.

Thanks to T. H. White’s fabulous 1939 novel, Arthur is sometimes called “The Once and Future King.”

In this case, once was more than enough.

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