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King Arthur: Legend of the Sword
Several years in the making - all of them wasted - director Guy Ritchie's testosterone-heavy reworking of Arthurian legend is an interminable bore. A lumbering script, co-written by Joby Harold and Lionel Wigram, pickpockets elements of an origin story from the biblical tale of Moses, Robin Hood and the Marvel Comics universe, with an eye to kick-starting a multi-film mythology filled with familiar characters from olde worlde legend. Thunderous action sequences appear to have been reconstituted from the cutting-room floor of other blockbusters: rampaging giant elephants in battle armour in the opening melee look suspiciously like hulking Oliphaunts from The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King, and a monstrous magical serpent slithers just like Lord Voldemort's pet Nagini in the Harry Potter franchise. The hero's obligatory training montage is rendered as a superfluous jaunt to a magical realm called the Darklands, where Arthur hones his swordsmanship against a dizzying menagerie of computer-generated snakes, bats, rats and wolves. It's a triumph of visually arresting yet soulless digital might, awash with dodgy East End geezers who litter Ritchie's oeuvre, including his revisionist take on Sherlock Holmes with Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law. Female characters are treated with casual disdain: reduced to witches, wenches or eminently expendable spouses and offspring, who can be slain to facilitate the flimsy plot. "Where there is poison, there is a remedy," opines one sorceress. Presumably, Ritchie's film is the pox. Uther Pendragon (Eric Bana), king of the Britons, is betrayed by his power-hungry brother Vortigern (Jude Law), who forges a deadly pact with dark sorcerer Mordred (Rob Knighton). The king is slain, but not before he can send his first-born son Arthur (Charlie Hunnam) down river to Londinium to be raised in a brothel. Flanked by mates Back Lack (Neil Maskell) and Wet Stick (Kingsley Ben-Adir), Arthur blossoms into a strapping hunk, who is blissfully unaware of his destiny. The heir apparent subsequently pulls Excalibur from a stone and is sentenced to death by Vortigern and his snarling henchman Mischief John (Geoff Bell). Thankfully, a mysterious enchantress known only as The Mage (Astrid Berges-Frisbey) joins forces with Uther's exiled general Sir Bedivere (Djimon Hounsou) and expert archer Goosefat Bill (Aiden Gillen) to save Arthur from the executioner's chopping block. King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword is swashbuckling tosh, hamstrung by lifeless performances, clunky dialogue and inert screen chemistry between Hunnam and Berges-Frisbey. "Are you falling for me like I'm falling for you?" he asks insipidly. Ritchie invigorates dull storytelling with trademark hyperkinetic brio and snappy editing, plus a throwaway cameo by David Beckham (replete with disfiguring facial make-up), who is just as wooden as the uprights he occasionally struck during his glory days with Manchester United. Sadly, this is two tedious and dispiriting hours of own goals.