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Tuesday, May 9, 2017

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword



Behold Your Born King!

When musing about King Arthur, what comes to mind? What do you expect to see in a King Arthur movie? Never mind any of that, director Guy Ritchie and Charlie Hunnam will answer for you with the thing you didn't know you wanted from King Arthur: swagger. In King Arthur: The Legend of the Sword - the first of a planned six film (!) Arthurian cycle - Ritchie and Hunnam, as the Born King, give us an Arthur unlike any before: bristling with the maximum swagger of a Men's Health cover boy and the best dressed man in Camelot. Almost nothing in Legend of the Sword is business as usual King Arthur. The Holy Grail? What's that? Sir Lancelot? Who's he? A love triangle with Arthur, Guinevere and Lancelot? No one's got time for that, mate. 

Your Classical Literature Professor will be utterly baffled by Ritchie's reinvention of the mythology of Camelot, but that's all part of the bloody fun of this ribald adaptation of King Arthur.  Legend of the Sword is Camelot by way of a Guy Ritchie heist film, where a motley gang of back alley scalawags plot a revolution to snatch the throne of England from the usurper King Vortigern (Jude Law) lock, stock and smoking barrel. But first, some backstory, and quite a lot of it. Legend of the Sword is King Arthur Begins, a three hour movie delivered in two hours by way of hitting the fast forward button. Ritchie rockets past tons of exposition in montages of breakneck speed. Keep up now: 

When Arthur was just a young lad, Camelot already existed. In an unspecified era of England, the country is at war. Men, led by King Uther Pendragon (Eric Bana), who wields the magical sword Excalibur given to him by Merlin, battle an army of Mages, led by Mordred (who is not Arthur's son as is tradition). Uther wins the war but is immediately betrayed by his brother Prince Vortigern, who succeeds in his coup. Uther and his wife Queen Elsa (no, not that Queen Elsa) are killed, but young Arthur escapes by boat. The boy floats down river to the city of Londinium, already a multinational city. Arthur, who has repressed memories of his royal lineage, grows up in a brothel and ends up running it as a grown man with his randy mates. He also learns how to fight in a dojo from a Chinese martial arts master named George.

Meanwhile, circumstances place Arthur back in Camelot, where the Sword in the Stone awaits. Of course, Arthur draws the sword. Then he faints, besieged by visions. Soon he is about to be executed, for England cannot have two kings and Vortigern rather likes ruling the kingdom too much. This has to be the first and only King Arthur movie where Arthur's head is placed on a chopping block. Arthur escapes with the help of his mates and a Mage sent by Merlin (Astrid Berg├Ęs-Frisbey). The Mage has the most frustrating job in the movie, trying to get Arthur to accept Excalibur and his destiny to rule as the Born King. Arthur is stubborn. He has no desire to be King. He even throws Excalibur into a lake, where the Lady of the Lake catches it and then literally forces the sword back into Arthur's hand. When Arthur finally accepts Excalibur, he becomes a fighting machine worthy of being one of the Avengers. Excalibur grants him superpowers; he can fight with astonishing speed, cutting down a horde of Vortigern's soldiers with ease. This merely adds to Arthur's swagger.

The Legend of the Sword offers unexpected surprises around every corner of Londinium and beyond. Giant magical monsters, like war elephants the size of mountains? Check. A secret magical island called the Dark Lands where even more giant animals dwell? Check. The ghastly Syrens, comprised of three women with octopus bodies who transform Vortigern into a giant skull-faced demon covered in fire? Check. Arthur's mates, including his father's former lieutenant Sir Bedivere (Djimon Hounsou) and a criminal archer named Goosefat Bill (Aiden Gillen) turn out to be the Knights of the Round Table as Arthur raises them up to knighthood when he claims the throne. Gillen's participation is extra fun for Game of Thrones fans; as the guy who plays Littlefinger, it must inspire him to see a brothel owner become King. Even if Littlefinger ever won the Iron Throne of Westeros, he could never carry himself with the swagger of Arthur, dragging Excalibur behind him as he strides into the fight of his life against his evil uncle. When King Arthur confronts a gaggle of Vikings at the end of the movie, his swagger is at maximum levels. "You are addressing England," he decrees to the Vikings before they bend the knee to him. Bloody hell, what's next? God save England, God save us, and God save our weird new King.