Guy Ritchie’s take on Arthurian legend arrives in cinemas with the unwanted accolade of being 2017’s first major flop, having been comprehensively crushed by Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy and Amy Schumer’s Snatched on its US debut last week. There’s been plenty of online sneering and talk of a nine-figure loss; surely it can’t be as bad as all that?
Charlie Hunnam takes the lead role as Arthur, the son of a murdered king raised in a brothel on the streets of London (sorry, Londinium). After discovering his birthright, he struggles with his new-found destiny as he learns to be the leader England needs to overthrow the current, corrupt monarch, King Vortigern.
While never re-scaling the heights of his early years, Ritchie continues to be seen as a steady hand for big budget action movies. The Sherlock Holmes films and The Man from UNCLE were flawed, but capable enough to be solid crowd pleasers. King Arthur, however, is simply a step too far.
Appallingly written, the dialogue exists solely to narrate what’s going on at any given moment, with several genres often cycled through in a single scene.
One minute it’s a quickly cut, comic caper in the Lock, Stock mould (England’s future monarch calls Aidan Gillen’s character “Honey Tits” in one baffling exchange), next it’s a high-fantasy extravaganza, with mages, magic and all manner of dodgy CGI. It’s never willing to decide what it wants to be, and so thrashes around hoping all the noise will distract from its lack of direction.
Hunnam, sporting a different accent for every scene, struggles with Arthur’s multifarious personality: he’s too pretty to be streetwise, too brooding to be a hero, too confused to be plausible. He’s not helped by Jude Law, who mainly stands about sneering.
Oh, and the highly publicised David Beckham cameo is as bad as it looks. Sure, he’s more wooden than medieval dentures, but even worse, dropping the world’s most recognisable sportsman into a pivotal scene destroys any sense of immersion or momentum.
For the money it cost, for the talent attached, and for the time it took to shoot, Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur is unforgivably shambolic. The only silver lining is that the box office reciept will guarantee we won’t see a sequel.