Guy Ritchie's "King Arthur: Legend of the Sword" is arguably as offbeat an interpretation of a classic character as is his Sherlock Holmes. It also exudes a Bondian ambiance: not quite like Ritchie's "Man From U.N.C.L.E." remake, but still succinct enough for detection. These traits give the story its distinction, its style and most importantly, its guts; and all confined to a mythology we may not have expected.
What a relief that in this age of lame reinterpretations, the writer/director didn't make Arthur Pendragon a sniffling kid with whom millennials can identify. (Really, like any member of that sissified sect would possess the required fortitude, let alone the respectful perspective, to admire any member of burgeoning Camelot. Do they even teach Arthurian legend in schools these days? Doubt it!)
Acting as the rough-and-tough Arthur is Charlie "Sons of Anarchy" Hunnam. It's cool to see this "street-wise" guy stumble into the scene and yank Excalibur from its stone. We can easily believe this son of a gun capable of leading the masses, with or without a supernatural blade and/or any other form of divine intervention. Ritchie's version also makes it clear that though Arthur stems from royal roots, he's an underdog in his fight to regain his ordained right. In all other respects, he emerges as a conscientious biker type, existing centuries before such would have ever roamed the scene. Clever.
Jude Law is King Vertigern, Arthur's uncle: so rotten and self-entitled that his contemptuous actions lead to his brother (Eric "Hulk" Bana)'s death. Even without such blood on his hands, Vertigern would still beam a troubling light. In fact, Law makes his character not only the staple, mad magician, but a full-fledged snoot, similar to those modern-era professors and conniving politicians who tell us what to think and do. (Gee, those misguided millennials might actually fancy this phony despot and go the extra mile to keep him in "office". Hardy har har!) The inclusion of Uncle Vertigern's elitist ilk is, therefore, ideal villainy, giving us proponents of virtue further reason to cheer the brawny Pendragon on.
As far as Lancelot goes, forget it. He's nonexistent in this edition, since we're dealing solely with Arthur's ascension. With that in mind, this film plays like a big prelude to something even bigger, rather like Ridley Scott's "Robin Hood", though that ambitious venture never sprung a Russell Crowe sequel. One can only wonder if Ritchie's film might face the same fate, but if that's the case, so be it.
We're at least granted other significant personas (some classic and a few pulled from left field), including Kamil Lemieszewski's Merlin (though he's, alas, merely a referenced, background fixture) and Djimon Hounsou's courageous Sir Bedivere (an undeniable force throughout the film). The legendary Mordred even makes an appearance, albeit out of mythological place, in the guise of Rob Knighton, but for more basic, trustworthy manifestations, there's Freddie Fox's Rubio and Aidian Gillen's Goosefat Bill.
The film also dishes up several ladies to catch our eye, as fetching as any one might find in any modern espionage try. They include Annabelle Wallis as Maggie; Katie McGrath (who interestingly enough, played Morgana on BBC's "Merlin") as Elsa; Poppy Delevigne as Queen Igraine; Millie Brady as Princess Catia; Georgina Campbell as Kay; and (drum roll please...) Astrid Berges-Frisbey (who played an enchanting, killer mermaid in "Stranger Tides") as the Mage, but we damn well know she's really Guinevere in disguise. Fortunately, none of these ladies inflict romance upon our sword-anointed protagonist, which may seem unorthodox, but for this refashioned origin, it was wise of Ritchie (and his coauthors, David Dobkin, Joby Harold and Lionel Wigram) to have pulled in the reins.
As the movie mounts, its mission remains steadfast, layering on revenge, honor and merciless melees on every occasion. Those seeking an effortless outcome between the sides can look elsewhere, for the conflict contained is realistically cruel and on occasion even monster-laden. Those who fight the good fight are the type we'd be honored to call friends (and fellow soldiers), which makes this film an easy ride, despite its boisterous brutality, snarky slant and two-hour-plus running time.
It is, therefore, that solidifying camaraderie (and the related cause to nurture the kingdom) that remains all-consuming; but hasn't that always been the gist of early Camelot? As with any version, Arthur and his friends are the legend's clinging contenders. When victory does hit (and how could it not?), it truly lifts the spirits, the feeling as traditional as it's radical.
For those who prefer their heroes strong and their revitalized legends even stronger, this Pendragon serving is a veritable meat-and-potatoes treat, guaranteed to fill one's belly with virile pride. Indeed, hail to the king!!!