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There are a lot of versions of the legend of Camelot, so what's to stop director Guy Ritchie from putting skyscraper-size elephants in his loopy action-movie take, "King Arthur: Legend of the Sword"?
Ritchie depicts Arthur, played by Charlie Hunnam, as a muscular street fighter in Londinium, unaware of his royal birthright. This movie's Arthur was raised in a brothel, trained under a Chinese kung fu master (Tom Wu) and lives by his wits and with his crew, Wet Stick (Kingsley Ben-Adir) and Back Lack (Neil Maskell).
The crown is held by King Vortigern (Jude Law), who in the movie's prologue has schemed to have Mordred, a mage summoning magical powers (and the aforementioned elephants), attack Camelot so he can murder his brother, and Arthur's father, King Uther (Eric Bana). Vortigern aims to stamp out any dissent to his reign, which is why he's concerned when a stone surfaces from the waters near Camelot with Uther's sword stuck tight in it.
Arthur pulls the sword, Excalibur, from the stone, but finds the sword's power beyond his control. Finding refuge from Vortigern in a resistance group with Uther's former knights Bedivere (Djimon Hounsou) and Percival (Craig McKinley) and the roguish outlaw Goose Fat Bill ("Game of Thrones'" Aidan Gillan), Arthur reluctantly learns about the sword's power from a good mage (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey).
Ritchie who co-wrote the last draft of a much-handled script with his "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." collaborator Lionel Wigram aims to create a new take on the Arthurian legend, one that barely mentions Merlin or the Round Table or strange women lying in ponds distributing swords. There are few women, strange or otherwise, besides Bergès-Frisbey's character and a lady-in-waiting played by Annabelle Wallis, so don't look for any Arthur-and-Guinevere romance.
Instead, Ritchie throws the "legend" into a blender along with action scenes and monster effects reminiscent of "The Lord of the Rings," "Braveheart" and "Kung Fu Hustle." And he brings the hyperkinetic style he's exhibited in the Robert Downey Jr. "Sherlock Holmes" movies: gritty action and fast camera moves, switching to super-slow-motion angles to emphasize Arthur's punches and swordplay.
It's all rather a mess, but often an entertaining one. Hunnam, last seen in "The Lost City of Z," finally finds an action role where he's having fun, and he makes the most of it. His exuberance and action-hero handsomeness hold things together when "King Arthur: Legend of the Sword" is breaking apart.
'King Arthur: Legend of the Sword'
The Arthurian tales gets a muscular rewrite in director Guy Ritchie's loopy variation.
Where • Theaters everywhere.
When • Opens Friday, May 12.
Rating • PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, some suggestive content and brief strong language.
Running time • 126 minutes.