'Legend of the Sword' half-baked from script to screen

Charlie Hunnam stars in "King Arthur: Legend of the Sword." (Warner Brothers Pictures)

Any ability to take King Arthur: Legend of the Sword as a serious piece of cinema falls by the wayside once the enormous elephants of war emerge from the miasma swinging their trunks like wrecking balls while destroying Camelot, which happens within the first five minutes.

For many movies that would set the tone for a campy, goofy movie that entertains in spite of itself. King Arthur: Legend of the Sword shies away from carrying a singular tone forward consistently, more content to lob spaghetti on the wall and hope enough sticks to create a sticky, coherent piece of art.

This is really the major fault (although there are many, many others) that drags down King Arthur: Legend of the Sword . Director Guy Ritchie and his cadre of writers have many ideas about how they want to interpret the King Arthur legend, but they don't select one to serve as the focus, instead creating an awkward action/crime/fantasy mishmash that never comes close to coming together. They start with a Shakespearean tragedy - a prince (Jude Law) killing his brother (Eric Bana) to become king - move akin to a low-level crime flick with Charlie Hunnam (acting a lot like Ritchie staple Jason Statham) as the future king Arthur but current minor crime boss, then toss in bits of magic courtesy a mage (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey) who controls animals. They throw in a few action sequences, a little Djimon Honsou for gravitas, and some goofy sidekicks (Kingsley Ben-Adir, Neil Maskell, Freddie Fox, and Aiden Gillen) to reduce that gravitas, and what's left is something close enough to a movie to send out to theaters. A movie like King Arthur: Legend of the Sword doesn't have to stick to any one of those concepts, but not deciding on one to drive the movie mucks things up for Ritchie and company. King Arthur: Legend of the Sword needed vision, some clear direction to follow to sort through all the muck and guide the audience to a satisfying conclusion.

Of the many films within King Arthur: Legend of the Sword , the best and the worst of the lot is the small-time crime drama depicted in the first act. This is clearly the area Ritchie and his fellow writers are most comfortable delving into. They get to engage in the banter and editing tricks that make movies like Snatch and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels as fun to watch as they are. The fascination with small time hoods and hustlers is obvious and justified based on how they're portrayed in those films and, to an extent, this one. Yet it also allows Ritchie to indulge in the bad habits he developed as a young filmmaker, most notably some wanton sexism. His earlier films reduced the problem by simply limiting the number of female characters involved, effectively creating one overarching problem that is more difficult to notice. King Arthur: Legend of the Sword has many female characters who contribute little to nothing to this movie besides serving as plot devices and dying when the plot deems it justified. That the only female character who does any fighting, Bergès-Frisbey's mage, commands her creatures from afar and doesn't join in on the brawling, which leaves a fair amount to be desired.

The rest of the elements are treated poorly, as expected. The narrative is infected by the disorganized tone, with little logic put into the plot machinations. Ritchie shows little talent as a director of large fight sequences - his battles lack cadence and rhythm - and even less on the use of special effects to supplement the action on screen. King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is carried by digital renditions of creatures and action sequences, none of which look particularly well-made or are good enough to be leaned on as a crutch, as this movie does.

The one point of optimism stems from the movie's messiness. King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is such a cluster of poorly formed ideas enough weirdness sneaks through so it isn't completely dull. The giant elephants are ridiculous, as are the enormous snakes and bats that get tossed in during a Empire Strikes Back -inspired soul searching trip. Weird is workable in its own way, just enough to keep a bad movie from being dire so the viewing experience is neither painful nor overly dull. That the best compliment offered to King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is to describe it as remarkably silly doesn't speak very well for the film either.

Rating: Two out of Five Stars

Ask Away

Target audience: People who are down with Guy Ritchie, Jude Law, Charlie Hunnam and giant snakes.

Take the whole family? Stick with the PG-13 rating, or at least within a year or two of it.

Theater or Netflix? Feel free to skip either.

How old is Jude Law, anyway? Not old enough to be Charlie Hunnam's uncle. This isn't a movie in which Hunnam was a teenager when his uncle murdered his dad, either. Young Arthur is 2 years old when the movie starts, and using their real ages as a benchmark Law would have been about 10 when those events occurred. The lack of age gap is a bit distracting and something the movie never seems to account for.

Watch this instead? Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch represent Guy Ritchie at his best as a director. For something more King Arthur related, watch either the beloved Disney movie The Sword in the Stone or the classic comedy Monty Python and the Holy Grail , probably the best cinematic take on the King Arthur legend.

Rating: PG-13

Run time: 126 Minutes

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