[image-1]Charlie Hunnam plays Arthur in Guy Ritchie's latest, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, which opens today in wide release. It's a passable summer PG-13 action flick that offers a fresh take on the Arthurian literature and manages to combine the auras of Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings and Snatch.
Ritchie, who re-branded Sherlock Holmes with Robert Downey Jr. and Jude law in 2009, is once again not particularly interested in existing interpretations of his subject, in this instance the 5th-century British king. But that's just fine. This version features few of the legend's principal characters — Merlin, Lancelot, Guinevere, etc. — and instead presents a kind of Moses origin story. (Expect Lancelot, Guinevere and others to appear in the requisite sequels).
The boy Arthur is sent down a river during a bloody coup in which a warlord with suspect allegiances named Vortigern (Jude Law) overthrows King Uther Pendragon, Arthur's father. Arthur is raised in a brothel and, as he grows, becomes a muscly protector and neighborhood watchdog. As in Sherlock Holmes, Richie delights in making his protagonist more pugilistic than in versions past, and so naturally we're treated to an early montage that culminates in a shirtless Charlie Hunnam punching the air at turbo speed while rock and roll plays.
Meanwhile, Vortigern's power grows, right alongside his paranoia. He is counseled throughout his reign by an aquatic sorceress-squid-demon that looks like an amalgam of The Little Mermaid's Ursula and the "gluttony" victim in Se7en. When Uther's sword Excalibur reveals itself in a stone in the bottom of a lake, Vortigern rounds up all the men in the kingdom who would be Arthur's age to determine if they can pull the sword from the stone. (Only a member of Uther's bloodline can pull the sword.) This makes for a nice twist on the legend. You can well predict what happens next, after Arthur proves successful.
Woodland guerrilla knights who remain loyal to Uther (Djimoun Hounsou, Aiden Gillen) and a mage (Astrid Berges-Frisby) come to Arthur's rescue and apprise him of his lineage. He learns that Excalibur imbues him with insane powers. It's like Sauron with that gnarly staff in the Fellowship prologue. A natural collision ensues.
Though the opening action sequence is a bit too reminiscent of the gauzy Assassin's Creed, the bulk of the film is actually quite nice to look at: Lush woodland scenery, Game of Thrones-ish costumes, and one or two goofy demon fight sequences.
Hunnam is a mixed bag as Arthur, though probably more suited for this role than he was for the explorer Percy Fawcett in Lost City of Z. Despite his dreams and his upbringing, Arthur remains a cocky Tomcat in the Captain Kirk mold and is therefore not totally convincing as an underdog. Still, though: rockin bod, dreamboat face, mad skillz with a sword.