That thunderous whirr you hear from everywhere books are actually read is the sound of all of the following whirling in their graves: Sir Thomas Malory, Geoffrey of Monmouth, T. H. White, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Mark Twain, Chretien de Troyes and John Dryden, just to name a few.
Guy Ritchie has just given us the trashiest and most impudent vulgarization of King Arthur anyone is ever likely to see in a zillion-dollar movie, "King Arthur: Legend of the Sword."
Forget "Camelot." Or "First Knight." Or "Knights of the Round Table." Or "Excalibur." Or, for that matter, "Monty Python and the Holy Grail," all of whom--even the Pythonites--treat Arthurian legend as part of the essential mythology of Northern European civilization. Ritchie goes beyond Brexit here, he does a merry jig atop all Arthurian legend and pieties simply because he can.
This is more like a "Game of Thrones" episode without the sex than one of the most semi-sacred of pseudo-Christian myths. To be even more specific, the sound of Daniel Pemberton's music reminded me of nothing so much as Basil Poledouris' fake-privimitive drums for "Conan the Barbarian."
So think of this as Ritchie's street-punk Arthur the Barbarian, with an extra contribution from Mel Gibson in "Braveheart" mode for good measure.
There's no Guinevere in this baby. No Sir Gawain or Lancelot either. This Arthur has some buddies but they have hearty, Sherwood Forest slob names like Wet Stick, Blue, Jack's Eye and Back Lock.
This Arthur becomes the world's most reluctant king in the old way--by realizing he's the only one who can remove the Sword Excalibur from its stone casing. But that's not what Ritchie (you'll remember he was once Mr. Madonna) is really after here. He's after a street punk Arthur, who grows up in a brothel protecting hookers, learns about street brawling in the streets and socks away ill-gotten gains coin by coin in a chest.
Think of this as the equivalent of a monster-driven punk version of European mythology. Forget Christianity. Chivalrous virtue, too. With this one, the tale starts with the equivalent of the Sex Pistols and the Clash doing their version of Handel's "Messiah." Lest that seem too plebeian, there's a dash of Dickens' "Oliver Twist" and Shakespeare's "Hamlet" too (a good travesty tries to get everyone involved).
Show Ritchie a tale that is considered holy somewhere in the British Isles and he'll stop at nothing to drown it in dopey megaplex hoo-ha. His Sherlock Holmes movies were close to unwatchable despite Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law.
Law is back in this one, playing evil king Vortigern, the uncle who stole the kingship from young baby Arthur under particularly foul circumstances. He rules crummily and cruelly and unjustly for 20 years and when Arthur plucks the sword from the stone, all bets are off.
You'll actually find Vortigern in the primal Arthurian tales of Geoffrey of Monmouth if you cared to look but not in any way that even vaguely resembles what Ritchie and his punks invent here.
So it's all a lot of Arthur and his Robin Hoody, street-punk versions of "Merry Men" vs. the ugly, black-armored slaughterers in the employ of Vortigern who, of course, wants nothing in the world but to solidify his own power.
What has to be admitted about this movie is that its chutzpah in trashing the foundations of North European civilization as a dumbhead two-hour Ultimate Fighting version of revolution is nothing if not entertaining. It takes a special trashiness to make a movie like this.
Charlie Hunnam, as Arthur, is the world's most flippant and reluctant king until his magic sword Excalibur takes over and starts wielding him.
In a similar way, I can conceive of Ritchie telling the world that he didn't make this movie about King Arthur, the world's audiences at movie megaplexes and Ultimate Fighting cage matches did.
So compared to a real King Arthur movie--the kind people used to put Robert Taylor, Sean Connery and Clive Owen into--this is like Wembley Stadium compared to Buckingham Palace.
It takes a lot of nerve to have such bad taste. but Ritchie's got so much of it that some of the dialogue is even "Who's on First" funny.
Unlike the Holmes desecrations which were just the zenith of crassmanship (that's craftsmanship whose only purpose is greed), this "street version" of England's noblest, most chivalrous and pseudo-spiritual story is virtually a political statement on behalf of "the people."
A travesty to be sure but hey, it sure ain't boring.
Camelot is closed for the summer.
"King Arthur: Legend of the Sword"
2.5 stars (out of 4)
Starring: Charlie Hunnam, Jude Law, Astrid Berges-Frisbey, Djimon Hounsou, Eric Bana
Director: Guy Ritchie
Rating: PG-13 for violence, suggestiveness and some language
Running Time: 126 minutes
The Lowdown: A new street punk version of Arthur's beginnings and his removal of the sword from the stone.