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An escapade that is most exhausting
THERE is no Merlin, no Lancelot, no Guinevere.
Guy Ritchie's medieval fantasy adventure King Arthur: Legend of the Sword features instead CG monsters the likes of thundering battle elephants and giant rats, plus a beefcake King Arthur unrecognisable as either Britain's once or future king.
This US$102 million arbitrary reimagining of the classic Excalibur myth from the auteur behind the 1990s Cockney crime capers Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch is a royal botch-up.
Arthur Pendragon is here an orphan in an action hero origin story. His father, the good King Uther (Eric Bana), is murdered by his power-mad uncle Vortigern (Jude Law) with the assist of black magic, and the crown usurped. The infant prince escapes by drifting along the River Thames to 5th century Londinium, where he is rescued and raised in a brothel.
Not until he pulls the Excalibur sword from the stone many fast-forwarded years later does he realise he is the prophesied "born king".
To reclaim his birthright and overthrow Vortigern he must learn to harness the sword's eldritch power.
Really? Is a weapon necessary? This swaggering street tough Arthur in the form of Sons of Anarchy FX series star Charlie Hunnam can bare-knuckle brawl and even chop-sock, having been schooled by a martial arts master (Tom Wu) à la Benedict Cumberbatch's Dr Strange. Which is, indeed, strange. His journey of self-actualisation is like the Moses parable re-told by Hong Kong cinema special-effects wuxia stylist Tsui Hark.
Lionel Wigram from The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (2015) is Ritchie's returning co-writer on this blustering escapade most exhausting for the director's quick cuts, whip pans, overlapping chatter, and a narrative that rewinds whenever someone says: "Hold on, back up."
The Knights of the Round Table rallying to the rightful monarch's cause are a scrappy band of laddish woodland rebels with names such as Djimon Hounsou's Sir Bedivere the Wise, an exiled noble, and Aidan Gillen's archer Goosefat Bill.
Among them chappies is a sort-of girl, a sullen sorceress (Astrid Berges-Frisbey).
Football idol David Beckham cameos as one of Vortigern's thuggish guards. And Law, aka Dr Watson in Ritchie's pair of 2009 and 2011 Sherlock Holmes blockbusters, plays Vortigern as a pantomime baddie with a predisposition to uncool nose bleeds: such is the job stress of holding down an illicit throne.
Rising from the waters beneath his palace, egging him on to ever-more murderous deeds, are a trio of tentacled mermaid witches (Lorraine Bruce, Eline Powell and Hermione Corfield) collectively called Syrens, a word not a misspelling of "sirens" as I had assumed but Ritchie trying again to be clever.
Ritchie is hoping the movie will be the first in a six-part franchise.
He is the only one.