Lock, Stocks and Two Smokin’ Arrows: King Arthur: Legend of the Sword
War elephants! Guy Ritchie had me at giant war elephants! But there is more to enjoy in this King Arthur meets Robin Hood gangster mash up.
There are war elephants (and war dogs — very Roman). There is a Lord of the Rings style fight onna bridge. There are druids. There is a sword in a stone! There are really strange prophetic mermaid octopi! There is Jude Law doing an evil Hamlet, and props to him for being dramatically laced and buckled into his evil leather armour whilst keeping a serious face.
Arthur is no hero here. He runs away to fight another day! A political refugee; he rocks up into Roman Londinium as an orphan hidden in a boat, (which is shown as ancient Roma to perfection). Evil Jude Law seems to be King of Cornwall (I’m sure his wannabe Trajan’s Column is really an 18th century mining chimney hidden as a Roman lighthouse) or possibly the Lake District or possibly gathered extras from Lord of the Rings, or Durham? He has the power of making everyone kneel before him and cheer (whilst secretly betraying him) and soon to make fire! whilst rocking a lot of leather. He is even more evil than Rufus Sewell in A Knight’s Tale. He has also killed Morganna from Merlin for nefarious reasons — i.e. he just can’t wait to be King! (or possibly for crimes against fashion as everyone seems to be jumping around the centuries here — she seemed to be in a completely different century to his Roman one). Or perhaps because he is a sexist — later he mutters that he wanted a son, not a daughter. (Blatantly this isn’t true from a much later scene, but definitely some Uther envy going on!) And what is with all these filmic nosebleeds these days?
Meanwhile, grumpy King Arthur, terrorist, is wearing… t-shirts. One of his gang is wearing collarless t-shirts and mangans! Evil Jude Law’s crew are Romans, whilst all the women are suffering from a great Wimple shortage (no headdresses at all, apart from head necklaces, or else no-one ever gets married here cos they’re still all unmarried women with hair flowing down) and definitely in the later 14th century compared to their Tudor-esque and Roman menfolk. They may not have Wimples or chin barbs, but they have great dresses! King Arthur is heading towards the 15th century or even Tudor, while inventing the t-shirt and sheepskin donkey jacket along the way. The Vikings are fun and super stylish, though maybe not very authentic with chunks of fur lobbed across their backs and quiffs. Occasionally the men wear hats! and the leather trousers are modelled to suggest legs wraps, which is a nice touch. It’s a shame because given how the Northman or Valhalla invoked a whole world — historical costuming can be done, and done well.
What is done well is the interior furnishings. There is colour, there is comfort and clutter — things! Not just cold stone walls, but interior luxury. Even if we are definitely into 14th century castle style here rather than Roman.
It’s also lots of fun. For a Guy Ritchie movie fairly gratuitously bloodless, sexless and little swearing; it’s just fun (and violence against women or anyone really is definitely condemned). From the war elephants and Romans vs druids vs Genghis Khan/Saracens(?) beginning to Arthur and his men (and women) sitting round a table (get it?!!!) discussing tactics for annoying evil Jude Law. Arthur learns to be King on the streets, including stealing from a lost Victorian lady?!! and toughening up to protect himself and others.
No Merlin — he’s offscreen; but there is a female Merlin stand-in who uses the magic of the natural world to help Arthur as well as arrows imbued with Greek Fire. One of many funny scenes is where Arthur is moaning his way across the landscape, so they blindfold him on a horse and still he continues to moan and berate female Merlin for her lack of a beard and the fact that he can still see where he’s going! There is also a gladiator school run by a Chinese man! Everyone has nicknames, it’s like East End Londinium — Arthur is a bit of a gangster to begin with. There are stories! Arthur has a big sense of justice where women are concerned. There is choppy Paul Greengrass camerawork through a Roman/medieval citadel! They are trapped in a laundry and dying vats area! having jumped to escape onto Roman tiled rooves.
I could do with some more exposition being shouted by the different characters — because of the time period styling (different characters and genders are widely in different centuries), I’ve got no idea who anyone is to begin with until a name is used.
Meanwhile Evil Jude Law is killing off his family (one by one) to gain more magical killing powers from the mermaid octopi. In trying to run away (again) and being given some insight during a near drowing from the Lady of the Lake (non octopi version), Arthur allows himself and the sword to be captured because he has giant magical creatures on his side and beserker justice rage from the sword. However this is an Arthur who takes no pleasure in in killing nor is a push over. The riots end and Arthur goes full Anglo-Saxon creating England! (as well as creating the aviator donkey jacket a few centuries early). There is a round table, fellowship and peace with the Vikings, who get to join the party once they’ve submitted.
The cast overall is great — David Beckham is hidden in there somewhere! Charlie Hunnam is charming and intelligent as the man who really doesn’t want to be king but gets chosen anyway — next Bond perhaps? Good all round work, especially from the child actors and even Jude Law gets his moment when he doesn’t want to do his murderous family killing spree but does it anyway. This is a man who wants power so much that he snuffs out his dynasty to get it.
Apart from the disturbing recurring theme of young children seeing their fathers killed or tortured, the magic is put back into this gritty King Arthur. It is fun with none of the super swearing, sexualised violence or gore of other recent action movies. Sequel please! Plus Daniel Pemberton cranking out another cracking score!