Kingsley Ben-Adir, Charlie Hunnam and Djimon Hounsou in King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (Photo: Warner)

★½ (out of four)
STARS Charlie Hunnam, Jude Law

It seems that every decade rates its own King Arthur flick, which means those folks who never wanted the 1980s to end now have another reason.

John Boorman’s 1981 Excalibur remains a superb motion picture – literate, lush, intelligent, and absolutely stunning to behold. Since then, though, audiences have been privy to the underwhelming likes of Jerry Zucker’s 1995 First Knight (starring Sean Connery as Arthur) and Antoine Fuqua’s 2004 King Arthur (with Clive Owen in the title role). This current decade now brings King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, and it’s the feeblest interpretation yet.

A dull and dour undertaking, the film begins with the nefarious Vortigern (Jude Law) teaming up with The Little Mermaid’s Ursula the Sea Witch in order to murder his brother Uther (Eric Bana, basically reprising his Troy role) and steal his crown. He also wipes out the rest of Uther’s family and friends, but he misses his wee son Arthur, who ends up floating down the river Moses-style. Arthur grows up among the rabble (he’s played as an adult by Charlie Hunnam), and his lineage is only determined once he pulls Excalibur from the stone. Excalibur, of course, is the mighty sword forged by Merlin himself – it should be noted that Merlin, one of the great characters in the Arthurian saga, only appears for a few seconds in a flashback sequence, presumably because the filmmakers couldn’t meet the asking price of Ian McKellen or Patrick Stewart or, considering the film’s overall incongruity, Kevin James.

Director Guy Ritchie’s kinetic style, perfect for Snatch and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, crucially hampered those daft Sherlock Holmes films starring Robert Downey Jr. – the ones that basically reimagined the sleuth as an elementary Indiana Jones. It’s even more damaging here, with Ritchie employing tiresome tricks of the trade to cover up the anemic screenplay he helped write. To complicate matters, the 3-D version of the film appears to have been shot through a dirty washcloth, with the darkness recalling the early years of the current 3-D craze when filmmakers were still tweaking the technique.

As Arthur, Hunnam displays little of the authority or magnetism integral to the character, although, to be honest, nobody really stands out in this blasé grouping. The impersonal nature of the project extends to the visual effects – when most of the villains are dispatched by a snake that’s the size of a Boeing 747, it’s hard to care about anything going on.

It’s rather astonishing that the creators of King Arthur: Legend of the Sword plan for it to be the first in a six-film series focusing on the Camelot celebrity. Unless the international box office is enormous, it’s doubtful there will even be enough enthusiasm for a straight-to-video sequel starring C. Thomas Howell as Arthur. To borrow from a far superior film about this king – 1975’s Monty Python and the Holy Grail, of course – it would be easier to cut down the mightiest tree in the forest with a herring than to willingly watch another entry in this errant enterprise.

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