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King Arthur becomes a generic action hero in ‘Legend of the Sword’

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Two stars

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword Charlie Hunnam, Jude Law, Djimon Hounsou. Directed by Guy Ritchie. Rated PG-13. Opens Friday citywide.

The legend of King Arthur has been interpreted in hundreds of different stories in every conceivable medium for more than a thousand years, all leading up to a torrent of murky CGI in the bombastic would-be franchise blockbuster King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. This movie does not feel like the culmination of centuries of literary tradition so much as the equivalent of a bored high school student doodling muscular dudes fighting monsters in the margins of his Norton Anthology of English Literature.

Directed and co-written by Guy Ritchie, Legend of the Sword awkwardly combines Lord of the Rings-style large-scale fantasy filmmaking with pseudo-historical grit and Ritchie’s own hyperactive, motormouthed style perfected in his early crime movies (Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels; Snatch). It even has a cameo from David Beckham, for some reason. Charisma-deficient Sons of Anarchy star Charlie Hunnam plays Arthur, who, despite the title, does not actually become king of anything until the very end of the movie. Instead he’s raised among criminals and ruffians after his evil uncle Vortigern (Jude Law, literally slouching his way through his performance) kills Arthur’s noble father King Uther Pendragon (Eric Bana) and usurps the throne.

While director Antoine Fuqua attempted to bring some historical legitimacy to his 2004 version of King Arthur, Ritchie goes full-on Game of Thrones, with giant mystical creatures, spell-casting mages and a final villain who looks a little too much like He-Man archenemy Skeletor. As an action director, Ritchie favors plenty of slo-mo and relies heavily on poorly rendered CGI. His one storytelling trick is to intercut characters talking about a plan with the execution of said plan, and it works effectively for the movie’s lone truly entertaining sequence, as Arthur and his cohorts attempt to explain some criminal activity to a local constable. Too often it’s just used to rush through exposition, and yet the movie is one long, drawn-out origin story, belaboring every bit of its title character’s well-known mythology (is that table … round?) to set up a franchise that no one asked for.

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