“From Nothing Comes a King”
Directed by Guy Ritchie
Starring Charlie Hunnam, Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey, Djimon Hounsou, Aidan Gillen, Jude Law, Eric Bana
In the mists of historyish, the wise and valiant King Uther (Bana) is besieged by an army of barbarians and giant, infernal elephants led by the Mage Sorcerer Mordred, because if we’re going to fuck this myth then by God we’re going to fuck it hard and we’re going to fuck it from the word go. He defeats Mordred with the aid of the sword of awesomeness, Excalibur, but is betrayed by his brother Vortigern (Law). Uther and his Queen are murdered, but their son Arthur survives, floating downriver to Londinium.
Arthur grows up to be Charlie Hunnam, a tough, nice-guy gang leader, shaking down smugglers, protecting the prostitutes who raised him, and learning kung fu from a dojo master named Chinese George (Tom Wu). Then he roughs up a Viking under the King’s protection, gets picked up to go and try to pull a sword out of a stone, and thus falls in with the resistance led by Sir Bedivere (Hounsou) and improbable marksman Goosefat Bill (Gillan), and guided by oddly foreign mage the Mage (Bergès-Frisbey). Teaming up with his old gang, he messes with Vortigern’s shit to set up an assassination attempt, and when that goes wrong is forced to embrace his unwanted destiny and go head to head with Vortigern, wielding the sword against the King’s ill-gotten magic.
What’s wrong with it?
Oh my God, this film. It’s… all over the place. The costumes, the weapon design, the architecture; the flagrant abuse of myth.
The film-making style is pretty erratic, featuring a lot of weird semi-flashbacks and narrated scenes.
Aside from the Mage, the women in this film are basically just there to get their throats cut to prove how vicious Vortigern is, including his wife (ex-Morgana Katie McGrath pulling down another very minor film role as Vortigern’s sacrifice bride,) and (Millie Brady as) his equally doomed daughter. It might not be so bad, but neither of Vortigern’s sacrifices to the gratuitous, writhing octobabes (what? You never came across that bit of Athuriana before?) gets enough establishment to have any dramatic or emotional impact, and this is me talking about a dad shivving his daughter.
Oh, and the Mage doesn’t have a name.
Did I mention the writhing octobabes? That was weird.
The Mage is… Well, I have no reason not to believe that Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey is probably a perfectly good actress in her native language, and her English is certainly better than my Spanish.
What’s right with it?
Okay, it’s a screaming, anachronistic mess, but it’s not because the filmmakers screwed up. It’s like how Pirates of the Caribbean didn’t screw up by putting all those zombies in the 18th century West Indies. Vortigern’s guards look like Mad Max cosplayers for a reason, and that’s that they look cool. Ish.
The film maintains a manic energy throughout its runtime, and never feels long at a shade over two hours.
Elephants from Hell! Hellephants!
It’s nice that the film doesn’t even pretend to be sticking to any kind of authentic Arthuriana. After the ‘the real story the legend was based on’ bullshit of the Clive Owen King Arthur, I find that refreshing.
Oh, I tell a lie; there’s Maggie, a palace servant who is the resistance’s inside woman. She survives and everything.
How bad is it really?
Mockney gangland King Arthur vs. shapeshifting wizard Vortigern. What’s not to like? King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is as mad as a bag of gerbils, but it embraces the crazy and plays the whole thing completely straight-faced even as it spirals into hallucinogenic shadowlands and octobabes.
Best bit (if such there is)?
I’m not sure the film ever beats the opening Hellephant assault, although sad Charlie Hunnam in the rain is hilarious.
Also, there’s a nice double blind where the Mage sends a snake into the palace by hawk, seemingly to assassinate Vortigern. He kills it, and then she sends in another, much much bigger snake.
What’s up with…?
- The Darklands? They’re never given even a passing explanation. It’s just all ‘darklands’ and we’re supposed to nod and accept it.
- Mage racism? So, Mages are… not human? Human but of a particular bloodline? When did wizards become a subspecies, because it turns up a lot these days?
Production values – It’s not triple-A and some of the leather looks a little goofy (especially in stills,) but damn those are some badass Hellephants. 7
Dialogue and performances – There is some mumbling – deliberate, rather than bad acting – and the talking is hella fast. As always with mockney, I wonder what non-British audiences make of its all. 7
Plot and execution – Just… wow. There’s a basic pattern to Arthurian myth, and very little of it is about evil sorcerers, giant, demon-possessed elephants, mockney gangsters, attack hawks and octobabes. What the hell am I watching here? 7
Randomness – I mentioned the octobabes, right? 10
Waste of potential – This is a mad idea which should have failed hard. It didn’t. 5