Based on one of the most iconic legends in history, The Kid Who Would Be King takes a spin on the classic King Arthur story and catapults it into modern times. Behind this modern retelling is British filmmaker Joe Cornish, who after eight long years not having directed anything is finally back. Being an IP which has been done time and time again, through different viewpoints and mediums, The legend of King Arthur is still a story that is able to resonate with many people on many different levels. Cornish was able to strip down the legend to its core values and inject them in a world that is much more relatable to audiences – middle school.
Yes, this version of the Arthurian legend is told through the eyes of a 12-year-old boy named Alex (Louis Ashbourne Serkis). At school, he’s a nobody and seemingly has only one friend in Bedders (Dean Chaumoo). They are also the target of two bullies, Lance (Tom Taylor) and Kaye (Rhianna Dorris). After trying to stand up for his friend, Alex starts to have a tussle with Lance, causing them to both get detention. Once it ends, Lance and Kaye are seeking revenge and chase after Alex in the pitch black of night. Alex wanders into an abandoned construction site where he is met face to face with a sword, lodged inside a stone. Being the curious middle schooler he is, Alex pulls the sword starting our adventure.
The action of Alex pulling to stone awakens the evil Morgana (Rebecca Ferguson), half-sister of Arthur, who after being defeated by him centuries ago was left in the underworld powerless. However, over time she would feed on the pain and evil of the world until finally the sword would be pulled once again. Not only does it awaken Morgana, but it also prompts the ancient wizard Merlin (Patrick Stewart/Angus Imrie) to aid Alex in defeating Morgana once again.
Of course, this all seems sort of bizarre to Alex as a kid his age normally doesn’t have to worry about saving the world nine times out of ten. This is where Joe Cornish brilliantly takes this story that seems farfetched and turns it into an incredibly heartfelt and feel-good adventure. The Kid Who Would Be King isn’t about the incredible action or sword fighting or magic that comes with the Arthurian legend, it’s about the values and lessons that it teaches. And what a better way to teach these lessons than through the viewpoint of young children. Being marketed and predominately aimed at younger children, this film does a great job of making them aware of what it means to be a good person. Not only are kids going to be able to resonate with that, but everyone will, and it does something even greater than that – the theme of leadership. Alex is placed in King Arthur’s shoes but as a young boy, he doesn’t really know how to handle this responsibility. It’s through guidance, trust, and believing in himself that he finally understands his position and what he must do. Patrick Stewart delivers the line, “A land is only as good as its leaders.” A very important line and one which normally wouldn’t make its way into a film like this, but Cornish makes it a point to get across.
None of this would have been possible without Joe Cornish’s direction or the performances put on by all the young actors. Of course, Sir Patrick Stewart was going to deliver, but the biggest standouts were Tom Taylor and Louis Ashbourne Serkis. Taylor plays Lance (Cornish chooses all these characters names for a reason) and his character arch was definitely one of the best and shows how people really can and do change. Louis Ashbourne Serkis plays Alex and yes he is the son of the amazing Andy Serkis, and it shows because this young actor crushes this role. He has this incredible charisma and vulnerability to him that makes you stick with him throughout this adventure. The humor almost always hits even though it is more childish humor, it works because it’s being delivered by children. Although this story wasn’t all about the action and sword fighting, the action that is presented is incredible, especially the final act where Cornish puts together a super creative final battle.
The real downsides of this movie come in form of the villain. Morgana isn’t really developed all that much, and for the majority of the movie is just a presence talking about what shes inevitably going to do until the final act. Rebecca Ferguson was definitely wasted here and was the least interesting part of the movie. The second half of the film also drags on a tad, causing the film to feel like it ends multiple times. The young actor who plays young Merlin, Angus Imrie, isn’t the worst, but definitely has a very over the top, more expressive performance than everyone else and at times feels very out of place. He does, however, provide some very comical lines and is the source of a lot of very good visual effects for a movie of this scale. While this movie is intended to be seen by younger kids, Cornish does not hold back visually and creates some pretty frightening enemies for Alex and company to fight off in form of Morgana and her dead fire horseman.
After many years, Cornish was able to tell a very powerful, yet super fun story that delivers a very important message which anyone could enjoy. While not as streamlined as his first outing with Attack The Block, it is incredibly impressive how well he brings out great performances from young actors. Two very different movies, one being a rated R sci-fi alien film and one being a PG Arthurian tale told through the eyes of a 12-year-old, Cornish does not lose his creative touch at all. Hopefully, it won’t be another eight years before his next endeavor as Cornish has proved his incredible talent once again.
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Directed by: Joe Cornish
Cast: Louis Ashbourne Serkis, Patrick Stewart, Rebecca Ferguson, Tom Taylor, Angus Imrie, Rhianna Dorris, Dean Chaumoo