In his early films writer/director Guy Ritchie (“Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels,” “Snatch”), who dropped out of school at 15, revealed an instinctive talent for storytelling. In fact, the way in which the story lines in those films develop was so fresh and innovative it seemed as if Ritchie were inventing a new language for film: a deconstruction in which a cheeky narrator explains non-linear intersecting plot threads, leaving audiences pleasantly gobsmacked.
As the budgets for Ritchie's subsequent films have ballooned so has his storytelling. No longer interested in the fast and dirty life of petty criminals, Ritchie has taken on some of the most recognizable characters, including Sherlock Holmes, the most-portrayed literary figure in movies and television.
Ritchie’s latest stars Charlie Hunnam—a Brit known in this country for playing California outlaw biker Jax Teller on “Sons of Anarchy”—as the mythical folk hero, largely based on Arthurian legend, but with other recognizable details from the lives of other icons, such as Moses, Jesus, Robin Hood and even a little Oliver Twist, thrown in for good measure. This could be “the greatest stories ever told” if it weren’t told so badly.
Written by Ritchie in conjunction with Lionel Wigram and Joby Harold, the screenplay covers a long narrative arc, following young Arthur as he grows up on the streets of the fictional Londinium to his reclaiming the throne, with the discovery of his ownership of the sword in between. Early scenes almost recapture the style and spirit of Ritchie’s early films but for their being rushed through in montage; enough only to pique the desire for some fast-talking storytelling but not sate it. And Hunnam’s native accent isn’t nearly as entertaining as Brad Pitt’s ersatz “caravan talk” in “Snatch.”
And so Arthur, unaware of his royal heritage, has no driving purpose, and even after his success at removing the sword from the stone, remains in no great hurry to make a plan to get started on fulfilling his destiny. Or even learning how to use the sword, which comes not from hours of practice wielding its heft but from merely recalling a repressed memory, which then sets off a whirlwind of CGI effects.
As a result, the final showdown between evil uncle Vortigern, played adequately but not gleefully by Jude Law, and Arthur looks more like a video game than the turning point of a civilization.