By Susan JAMES
The reluctant hero is a staple of storytelling. From Marshal Will Kane in the cowboy classic “High Noon” to Hamlet’s five-act dither over his father’s murder, the guy who regards his destiny as a suit he would rather not put on is a familiar figure. Enter auteur director Guy Ritchie’s take on the legend of King Arthur. Like the chameleon character of Sherlock Holmes, Ritchie’s other fan fave, Arthur has had many interpreters. He has been young and rugged, middle-aged and wistful, old and doddering. Ritchie’s choice is English actor Charlie Hunnam, a stalwart blond Viking of a hero in the mold of Chris Hemsworth’s Thor. Hunnam is saved from being as wooden as Thor’s hammer by some witty dialogue and lashings of humor that he handles with artful timing.
The movie opens with a bang, literally, as evil younger brother Prince Vortigern, played with eye-rolling psychopathia by Ritchie’s go-to guy Jude Law, mounts a coup to overthrow the lawful king, his brother Uther Pendragon (Eric Bana). All of this takes place in a sinister mountain fastness crowned by a castle and tower ripped from the production design pages of “Lord of the Rings.” Rocky, brooding and without a shred of foliage, the setting of this Camelot is a thing of nightmares, a haunted home that imprints itself as a series of bad dreams in the mind of the child Arthur.
Having paid a blood price to a writhing human-headed cephalopod that inhabits a pool in the castle’s dungeon, Vortigern is given the power to dispatch Uther and seize the crown. In the ensuing confusion he loses two prime objects, the sword Excaliber, now buried hilt-deep in a rock, and the true heir to the throne, Uther’s 2-year-old son. Arthur manages to escape in a boat to the Romano-Celtic city of Londinium. Like Moses in the bulrushes, a kindly woman finds the child. Unlike Pharaoh’s daughter she works in a brothel. Unaware of his true heritage, the young Arthur grows to manhood, mastering a series of battle skills while taking a large number of lumps. Meanwhile, Vortigern has seriously oppressed the people – as usurpers tend to do – using an army of black-hooded ninja types who all wear iron masks. The uneasy king frets about the whereabouts of his nephew, whether he is still alive and when he might challenge for the throne.
As a consequence, all the men in the kingdom are ordered to try and draw Excaliber from the stone. When Arthur, who has other things on his mind, unexpectedly succeeds he realizes he has hold of a double-edged blade. He can fight and become a legend or drop out of sight and get on with his life. life. As he tells everyone who’ll listen, he’d greatly prefer the latter. His pre-destined battle with Vortigern is one he never sought and a choice he fights bitterly against until nearly the end of the movie.
Helping him down his path to greatness is a stalwart friend of his father’s, Bedivere (Djimon Hounsou), an old friend from the brothel, George (Tom Wu), and a French-accented Mage or magician (Astrid Berges-Frisbey), who has been chosen for the task by Merlin himself.
With a Guy Ritchie film, you can expect violence, humor and the primal clash of testosterone. What it won’t be is boring.
See you at the movies!