Alex Elliot is a shy boy with a heart of gold, constantly sticking up for is best friend, Bedders, as they suffer endless taunts from school bullies Lance and Kaye. Alex’s life is forever changed when Lance and Kaye chase him after school, where he hides in a deserted construction site and stumbles upon a treasure – King Arthur’s sword of Excalibur, a gift he seems born to wield. Though he effortlessly pulls the sword from the stone, it will take considerably more strength to hang on to it as dangerous forces surge to reclaim its power. Alex is prepared to fight for good, but what will his quest cost him?
The Kid Who Would Be King starts off promisingly enough with the unique twist of being set in modern times. (An animated featurette kicks things off – a clever way to fill in uninitiated viewers on the story of King Arthur.) You can’t help but root for Alex (Louis Ashbourne Serkis, son of the astoundingly talented Andy Serkis) and Bedders (Dean Chaumoo), who are both absolutely adorable. Director Joe Cornish, who also wrote the script, does a great job of establishing the feel of their lives – who doesn’t cringe at the memory of school and the mean kids that shape us along the way?
Speaking of the bullies, they’re also well-cast, with Lance (Tom Taylor) and Kaye (Rhianna Dorris) as the no-nonsense older kids who have no qualms beating up children. (Where are the teachers in all of this? No one knows!) It sets up a good vs. evil dynamic that most audience members can easily relate to, especially important when trying to reel in the younger demographic.
Of course, the must-mention is the double-booked Merlin, played by Angus Imrie (and his amazing crane-like neck) as the high-school version and Sir Patrick Stewart as the elder wizard. (Though Stewart is barely in the film, he naturally dominates what scant screen-time he does have). Both actors ably guide the narrative as Alex and his followers navigate an increasingly terrifying world.
I wonder if I can knock “Glass” out of the top box office spot with this sword?
I have to admit I was pretty excited to see this after finding out Joe Cornish was in the director’s chair. Attack The Block, Cornish’s debut film, was unique, exciting, and fresh. It effortlessly blended sci-fi, jump scares, and social commentary into a frenzied offering and has rightfully earned a place on many a film lover’s Cult Classics list.
Cornish hasn’t directed a project since the 2011 release of ATB (though he cowrote the screenplay for Marvel’s Ant-Man with Edgar Wright), so I was pretty curious to see what he’d do with this family-friendly mainstream release. And what he did was… okay.
As one would expect, The Kid Who Would Be King is a fairly stylish offering (though the special effects were surprisingly clunky) as Cornish revisits London neighborhoods for the opening of the film, with the burned-out construction site echoing the ATB vibe. The city/school portion of the plot is engaging, but when the kids leave for the countryside what should’ve been exciting turns into a big yawn. I’ve seen The Hobbit. I want to know more of what Joe could’ve done with a citified King Arthur and crew – something we don’t get nearly enough of, despite advertising pointing towards otherwise.
Yo, Joe – where did our city time go?!
I wonder if Cornish has missed several doses of Xanax, for the dialogue is depressing. Not that this is a surprise – the story of King Arthur striving for equality is time-honored and resonates now more than ever in these dark times, with America mired in Trump and the UK facing the fallout of Brexit. But the heavy-handed message misses the mark – it’s repeated ad nauseum, yet it will still most likely fly right over the heads of a younger audience. (Those children who were paying attention were definitely frightened – I heard one little boy whimpering to his mother, “Mommy, I’m scared,” more than once. Kid – you should be.) Here’re a few examples of Joe’s view of the world:
“The land is lost and leaderless.”
“The world is becoming unstable. Global division is occurring at an alarming rate.”
“The world is tough, and getting tougher all the time. The world is not going to change – you have to.”
“We are insignificant and powerless against bullies.”
“Legends are rumors passed down. The rich hold on to what they have.”
“The world is rotten, and you are a low-born serf.”
“Do you think these rats are worthy of this land? They have no future.”
At one point Alex, Bedder, Lance, and Kaye even fight in a swamp over money. I hope the Orange Cheeto appreciates his shout-out.
Betsy DeVos also makes an uncredited cameo.
The culmination of the epic showdown you know is coming drags a bit. This is where we should be cheering the kids on, but the countryside scenes were such a bore that all I could think about was, “When is this gonna end so I can go pee?” I didn’t know I’d need a Stadium Pal to get through a matinee.
Ultimately The Kid Who Would Be King serves as a placeholder – Cornish can definitely direct, the spawn of Andy Serkis is assured a long career, theater-goers won’t grumble too much about having parted with the cash, and the studio will most likely finance a sequel, even though box office returns have yet to warm up. It’s the film equivalent to getting friend-zoned – not great, but not the end of the world.
Stonehenge serves as a time portal in the movie – luckily it’s bigger than this!
For something meant as a rallying cry, The Kid Who Would Be King falls pretty flat – a well-intentioned project that’s missing its spark. You’ll see it and forget it not long after.
The Kid Who Would Be King (2019) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: for Patrick Stewart, having a blast slumming it in a Led Zeppelin t-shirt and robe.
Take a Drink: every time teenage Merlin does his sassy “bend & snap” magic conjuring.
Take a Drink: for every dire line of dialogue.
Do a Shot: did anyone else find it weird that the construction crew just left a priceless artifact unprotected and unexamined amongst the rubble?
I’m not sure about extra scenes – as I mentioned, nature was not just calling but shouting at me, so I could not sit through the credits. I heard rumbling from the theater as I strolled back by, so there’s a 50/50 on additional footage.