Eric Bana

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

20/05/17

Oh dear. The relatively low key advance publicity for this has already led me to suspect that all might not be well in the King Arthur camp, and now there’s word that it has under-performed badly in the USA, making it Warner Brothers’ most expensive flop in a long time. While it’s very easy to be wise after the event, it’s pretty clear from a single viewing that the film’s major problem is the director’s inability to stick within a chosen genre.

It opens in full Lord of the Rings mode as the evil sorcerer, Mordred (Rob Knighton), launches an all-out attack on Camelot, complete with thousands of troops and several giant battle elephants. It’s clear at a glance where most of the film’s massive budget has been spent. Uther Pendragon (Eric Bana) uses his magical sword Excalibur to defeat Mordred, but he is unaware that his brother, Vortigern (Jude Law), is in league with the forces of darkness (those constant nosebleeds should have been a dead giveaway). Vortigern kills Uther and his wife, but their infant son Arthur, escapes in a boat and drifts downstream to Londinium, where he is adopted by a prostitute and grows up in a brothel. Next, we are treated to one of those montage sequences that director Guy Ritchie is so fond of, depicting the little boy’s eventful passage to manhood, which naturally involves plenty of bare knuckle fighting; some martial arts training, courtesy of resident king fu expert, George (Tom Wu); and a fondness for making money. Pretty soon the boy has grown up to be Charlie Hunnam and we’re in a different kind of movie altogether.

Now it’s Lock Stock and One Flaming Broadsword as Arthur interacts with his crew, all of whom talk like they’re in a contemporary cockney gangster movie and most of whom rejoice under comedy names – Wet Stick, Back Lack and Mischief John to name but three. At this point, Arthur is a bit of a Dark Ages Arthur Daly, wheeling and dealing with the Viking oppressors and steering well clear of ‘The Blacklegs,’ who are Vortigern’s men. But of course, it’s only a matter of time before Excalibur rears its handsome hilt, when it is discovered protruding from a block of stone. If Vortigern had any sense, he’d have hidden it but instead, desperate to locate his brother’s missing son, he insists that every man in the kingdom must attempt to wield the sword, a ceremony which is presided over by a Blackleg called Trigger (David Beckham, in a mercifully brief cameo). The rest is, of course, legend…

But Ritchie seems incapable of keeping the good ship Excalibur on a steady course. One moment Arthur and his posse are being diamond geezers, the next Vortigern is communing with some slimy creatures from the bottom of an underground pond, and then Arthur is having visions under the influence of ‘The Mage’ (Astrid Berges Frisbey, nabbing what amounts to pretty much the only half-decent role for a woman in the entire film). A scene where Arthur and his gang are planning to sneak into Camelot could have stepped straight out of a contemporary heist movie, and yet, for the finale, we’re back to epic fantasy again as Vortigern takes on the guise of a giant warrior, looking to eliminate his only challenger for the throne of England.

To be fair, the film has a few memorable scenes – there’s a lovely sequence featuring the Lady of the Lake and there’s no doubting the majesty of that opening battle. But overall, this is too scattershot to be convincing. As for Hunnam (last seen as Sir Percy Fawcett in The Lost City of Z), well, he makes a decent fist of his starring role, but sadly he’s battling more than just his onscreen adversaries in this one.

Ritchie has pitched Legend of the Sword as the first of a four-part series, but judging by this opening salvo, I’m hoping (to paraphrase a line from Love and Death) that he hasn’t already put a down payment on the battlefield.

2.5 stars

Philip Caveney

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Special Correspondents

Special1

01/05/16

Whatever happened to Ricky Gervais? The glory days of The Office and Extras are now long gone and his occasional forays into cinema have amounted to a few average cameos in other people’s movies and the woeful laughter-free zone that was The Invention of Lying. His new movie, Special Correspondents, is a Netflix original (though actually not original at all, as it’s a remake of 2009 French comedy, Envoyes Tres Speciaux). And, though it pains me to say it, it’s a disaster – a ‘comedy’ that fails to raise so much as a smirk.

Gervais plays Ian Finch, a hapless sound engineer working alongside charmless, bombastic reporter, Frank Bonneville (Eric Bana) who has alienated all his colleagues at 365 News and  is now residing at Last Chance Saloon. Ian’s other workmate, Claire Maddox (Kelly McDonald) is the closest thing to a sympathetic character you’ll find in this sorry tale and she isn’t really given all that much to do. Ian is also lumbered with a shrew of a wife, Eleanor (Vera Farmiga) who has all the inherent charm of a car crash and who gleefully cheats on Ian with Frank (though to be fair, Frankdoesn’t know at the time who she is married to).

When a civil war breaks out in Ecuador, Ian and Frank are despatched to cover the story, but Ian, upset by the fact that Eleanor has just walked out on him, accidentally throws their tickets and passports into a passing garbage lorry, leaving them stranded in the USA. Realising that this was his last chance to make good, Frank persuades Ian to help him fake a series of reports from war-torn South America. They are actually holed up in a restaurant across the road with a couple of friends, the almost terminally thick Brigida (America Ferrara) and her husband Domingo (Raul Castillo).

It’s a slight idea and one that is never really nailed – instead, what we get is a lazy, written-by-numbers story featuring embarrassing racial stereotyping, and a series of plot twists you can see coming from several blocks away. More damningly, there’s hardly anyone here you can root for, as McDonald’s character aside, they all appear to be venal, self-interested scumbags with an eye on advancing their own careers. Furthermore, a scene that emulates a faked hostage video is uncomfortably close to images we’ve seen in real life that are a million miles away from anything humorous. I can’t help but wonder if, in the past,  the sadly absent Stephen Merchant acted as some kind of quality control for Gervais. Left to his own devices, he seems incapable of creating anything with any depth.

With a new David Brent movie looming on the horizon, the only hope is that he’s put a bit more effort into that script, because this one is frankly dead in the water.

1 star

Philip Caveney