The Kid Who Would Be King (2019) Review
THE ONCE AND FUTURE KID
The names of Camelot, Excalibur, Lancelot, Morgana, Merlin, and Arthur Pendragon are some of the main staples to the many different iterations of the Arthurian legends of King Arthur. Taking inspiration from many the tales of British folklore, the legend of King Arthur has been told and retold through a multitude of accounts, finding its origins within 12th century medieval England. With the passing of the tale, the story of Arthur has passed through the ages, reimagined and refined the British figure into a legend in both folklore and in literary. While many novels and books have written on the legend of King Arthur, none is more famous than version written by English novelist T.H. White titled “The Once and Future King”, which consist of the widely and well-known part of the Arthurian tale (i.e. The Sword in the Stone). Much like the literary world, Hollywood as a plethora of cinematic tales (made for the big and small screen) that represent the legend of King Arthur. This includes Disney’s 1963 animated feature The Sword in the Stone and 1998’s Quest for Camelot, the films 1995’s First Knight and 2004’s King Arthur, 2017’s King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, and 1998’s television movie Merlin amongst many others. Now, 20th Century Fox and director Joe Cornish present the latest variation of the King Arthur legend with the YA film The Kid Who Would Be King. Is this new cinematic take on the old legend worth seeing or is it just another “run-of-the-mill” endeavor from the illustrious Arthurian lore?
Alexander “Alex” Elliott (Louis Ashbourne Serkis) is just a normal twelve-year-old kid who’s just trying survive school with his best friend Bedders (Dean Chaumoo), though the pair are often the targets of bullying by their classmates, most notably Lance (Tom Taylor) and Kaye (Rhianna Doris). However, all that changes when Alex, after being chased by Lance and Kaye, ends up pulling a sword from a cement block on an abandoned building site. As fate would have it, the sword turns out to be Excalibur, the same sword from the Arthurian legend; making Alex the next chosen successor to wield the fabled sword of myth. Soon after, a mysterious teenager arrives at his school, revealing himself to be Merlin (Angus Imrie) and speaking of an impending doom against the evil witch Morgana (Rebecca Ferguson), the half-sister of King Arthur who was trapped in bowels of the Earth long ago by the king of legend. With only days before Morgana is free from her imprisonment, Merlin wants Alex to become the hero that wields Excalibur to vanquish the vile sorceress and her army of the dead. However, Alex doesn’t want to be a hero, but has very little choice in the matter as Merlin instructs the young boy to hone his skills and learn the traits of values that were once taught to Arthur Pendragon. In need of knights to undertake his mission, Alex enlists the help of Bedders as well as Lance and Kaye, embarking upon a personal quest that will unite the quartet together or spilt them asunder, leaving Morgana’s return unchecked and unchallenged.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
Okay, so this might sound familiar, but taken some piece of this paragraph (and the opening paragraph) from my review for King Arthur: Legend of the Sword as served that review and serves what I want to convey in this particular review as well. So…. with my love of all things fantasy, the various Arthurian legends of King Arthur have definitely crossed my paths many, many times through my life. Like many my age, my first introduction to the story was through Disney’s animated film The Sword in the Stone, finding the tale of Arthur (commonly known as Wart) and his wacky adventures with the mystical Merlin a gateway into the broader legend of King Arthur. From there, I’ve read, learned, and watched several other variations of the King Arthur, including several cartoon series (most notably with Disney’s Gargoyles) and films (First Knight and the TV movie Merlin). I still haven’t read T.H. White’s “The Once and Future King” novel yet, but I do plan to someday. Thus, by now, I’m somewhat well-versed in the Arthurian legend (and its many adaptations) to get the main gist of the legendary tale of Arthur Pendragon.
As one can imagine, Hollywood’s fascination with old English legend is just as palpable as it was way back decades ago; weaving the Arthurian tale in films like King Arthur: Legend of the Sword and even Transformers: The Last Knight. This comes back around to talking about the film The Kid Who Would Be King, a 2019 movie that sees to revigorate the story of King Arthur for a new generation of moviegoers. Like many out there, I really didn’t hear much about this movie via the internet nor that much “buzz” on several prominent movie websites. My really “first look” at the movie was when the film’s trailer was released and I definitely had mixed feelings. Of course, the premise looks fun and amusing, but I had a bit of a leery feeling about this movie in the back of my mind…. like….” Why do we need another King Arthur movie?”, for this scenario has been down many times before in past kids / YA film endeavors. So, I definitely had some reservations, but I decided to check out the movie on one of my days of from work (during the weekday for a matinee showing). What did I think of it? Well, it was okay. While the film could’ve been better, The Kid Who Would Be King definitely has its merits in heart and entertainment value for a kids’ flick. It’s not the best King Arthur story I’ve heard of, but it’s earnest modern retelling for the whole family.
The Kid Who Would Be King is directed by Joe Cornish, whose previous works includes such directing the movie Attack the Block as well as serving as screenplay writer for projects like The Adam and Joe Show, The Adventure of Tintin and Ant-Man. Thus, given his film background, Cornish doesn’t have much credible history in children’s entertainment films, which might be a little bit skeptical for him to win the director’s chair for The Kid Who Would Be King. Luckily, that skepticism isn’t that much warranted as Cornish seems capable in helming a kid’s movie, demonstrating that capability he has in reshaping the classic King Arthur tale for a modern audience. What one of the most notable things that Cornish does when approaching this movie is how he crafts the feature to feel like a throwback 80s kids’ adventure movie, but made for the modern generation. Similar to 1985’s The Goonies or 1989’s Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (or any other similar features), follows a small collective group of kids who aren’t necessarily the “best of friends”, but ultimately come together and discard their difference in service of something greater than themselves. The comparsion is there in The Kid Who Would Be King and I think Cornish draws inspiration from that particular era of films and that notion works in the movie’s favor. Thus, as a whole, Cornish makes the feature play to the strength of its target audience, which is the “tween” age of range (9 to 12), as I’m sure it will find more of an acceptable viewership in that bracket that older generations. Still, even outside that range, The Kid Who Would Be King has the reminiscent feel that has enough gumption and integrity to make this modern telling of King Arthur enjoyable for as a family adventure endeavor.
Cornish also plays “double duties” in The Kid Who Would Be King, acting as both director as well as the film’s script handling, penning a story that has plenty to harken to the mythos of the Arthurian legend. Thus, as has to expected, there is a lot of references made to the commonplace legend tale thread of King Arthur, including Excalibur in a stone (i.e. the Sword in the Stone), Merlin, Arthur’s half-sister Morgana, Arthur’s knights, and even a mentioning (and visiting) Tintagel, the rumored birthplace of Arthur Pendragon. Cornish utilizes all of those King Arthur nuances and crafts a story around it, which (again) speaks something akin to a classic 80s kids fantasy adventure romp. Another interesting that Cornish does in the film’s narrative telling is not making the feature so much of a retelling / reimaging of the King Arthur story (like what King Arthur: Legend of the Sword tried to do), but rather an off-shoot continuation. What do I mean? Well, the film’s main character Alex isn’t made to be a prophesized incarnation and / or a descendant of the Pendragon line, which was what I was expecting the story / plot to be like, but is simply presented as a kid whose heart and righteous action makes him worthy of pulling Excalibur from the stone; something like Thor wielding Mjolnir (i.e. Whosever holds this hammer, if he be worthy, shall posses the power of Thor!). Additionally, Cornish crafts a meaningful message about the importance of individuals following a moral code and the power / belief that kids and teens have to change the world…. for the better. This, of course, is relevant to today’s world, especially with the rising of social justice, civil unrest, and problematic strife within the public’s eye. The problem, however, is that Cornish isn’t subtle when addressing this particular message, reasserting the theme over and over throughout the film’s runtime. That being said, it’s still an impactful theme to present of which usually accompanies various kids’ movies in dealing with legends and folklore myths (i.e. teaching lessons). To that effect, Cornish succeeds.
In terms of filmmaking technicality and overall presentation, The Kid Who Would Be King is an okay-ish endeavor that meets most of the industry standards for a feature atypical kids’ movie. I’m not saying that the movie “looks” terrible or anything like that, but majority of the film looks pretty “meh” in its background setting aesthetics. This means that the art direction team, the production designs by Marcus Rowland, set decorations by Sara Wan, and costumes designs Jany Temime are all just adequate endeavors in making the film’s set, props, and overall appeal. Even the cinematography work done by Bill Pope is just okay. There are few cool-looking visual effects sequences that do help elevate the film’s more fantastical moments, including several creature designs for Morgana and her undead minions as well as an animated opening beginning sequence that recaps the main story of the King Arthur legend. Naturally, I’m not expecting some award-winning type / mind-blowing technical achievement for a film project like this movie, but it wasn’t as “enticing” as it could’ve been. Thus, the presentation of The Kid Who Would Be King comes off as a little bit unimpressive. Luckily, the film’s score, which was composed by the Electric Wave Bureau, has its moments of musical heroic flourishes that feel “epic” when conveying its palpable dramatic moments.
Unfortunately, there are particular pieces in The Kid Who Would Be King that don’t work and / or struggle to finds its footing; impacting the film’s viewing and entertainment experience. Perhaps the one that most noticeable is the simply fact that the movie struggles in several parts in the narrative. Of course, there’s plenty to like about the movie, which creates a familiar children’s cinematic adventure, but the narrative itself becomes problematic unto itself. What’s wrong with it? Well, naturally there’s pacing issues throughout the film, causing some parts and scenes to be uninteresting and uneven…case in point…all the scenes involving Morgana’s revival. I know what Cornish was trying to do with those scenes, but it’s merely stating the obvious and those scenes end up being a bit of redundant. The same can be said with the film’s second act, which see Alex and company going off on a quest. Yes, a lot of important stuff happens (both story wise and character builds), but all seems a bit convenient that everything happens in a formulaic / predictable manner, which makes the plot beat points uninteresting to a certain degree. Thus, I know what to expect and didn’t really feel “challenged” in the narrative or rather entertainingly enticed.
Coinciding with that is the film’s third act, which sees Alex and his knights (and the rest of Alex’s school) do battle with Morgana and her army. On the surface (and on paper), the premise is there for something grand and epic, with the forces of good and evil clash and setting the climatic battle with Alex and friends facing off against Morgana. Plus, even for sequences that in this isn’t too violent for kid’s audience, which is good the parents out there. Unfortunately, the practicality of how it all plays out is a bit anticlimactic with Cornish failing to execute a well-staged battle. To be honest, the actual preparation before the big battle is more exciting that the battle itself, which is disappointing. What’s also doesn’t help the movie (at this particular moment of the feature) is that the film itself feel long, with the feature clocking in around 119 minutes long (nearly two hours long), and certainly feels like that as the narrative seems more stretched. Thus, the film could’ve been edited down at least a good ten minutes for a more tightly woven feature film.
The film’s cast has a few recognizable names, but more in supporting roles, while majority of the primary roles are populated by a younger cast. At the head of the younger acting pack is actor Louis Ashbourne Serkis as the film’s main protagonist hero Alexander “Alex” Elliot. Known for his roles in Taboo, Noddy, Toyland Detective, and Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle, Serkis, who is actually the son of famed motion capture performer Andy Serkis, does a pretty job in the role Alex. His character definitely embodies all the traits and qualities of a young child hero (as a sort of young Arthur architype), but is also a kid in “modern times”, which does produce a few comedic / silly moments in when he clashes against his own destiny. Still, Serkis is up for the task and does handle himself throughout the movie, even in the few more dramatic / poignant moments.
Behind Serkis’s Alex is the character Bedders, Alex’s rotund sidekick friend / classmate, who is played by actor Dean Chaumoo (making his acting debut in the movie). Unfortunately, while Chaumoo tries to deliver an earnest performance as well as trying to project a loyal / faithful persona in his role, the character of Bedders just comes off as an annoyance and ends up just saying obvious of what’s going on in the scene. Thus, the character becomes underwhelming, unimportant, and basically forgetful. Two other young cast members fare a little bit better, with actor Tom Taylor (Dark Tower and Legends) and actress Rhianna Dorris (Secret Life of Boys) as Lance and Kaye, two school bullies who joined Alex and Bedders on their quest. However, both the characters don’t get much development (beyond a few changes), which makes stock-like characters, but (in the end) are serviceable to the film’s plot and narrative beats. Of all the characters, the last member of the younger cast is the one that makes the most memorable performance on-screen; finding the character of Merlin (or rather the younger iteration of Merlin disguise as a teenager) to be quite enjoyable. Played by actor Angus Imrie (Kingdom and Pond Life), the character (or rather the portrayal) of Merlin is bit off-beat, which definitely works and Imrie definitely captures that perfectly. Plus, his delivery of dialogue is great as well, speaking in grandiose / old world speech pattern that sparks plenty of clashes with more modern slang and terminology. In addition, the sequences of Imrie’s Merlin doing his hand spell incantations made me laugh the most in the movie.
Looking beyond the younger cast, the more seasoned cast is delegated to smaller supporting roles that elevate the movie in their screen-presence (and overall gravitas in certain scenes), but do little to make their roles well-rounded beyond what’s presented to them. What do I mean? Well, a perfect example is in actor Patrick Stewart (Star Trek: The Next Generation and Logan), who plays the older version of Merlin. Of course, Stewart is a veteran actor and definitely knows how to lend his talents in any scene that is given. However, his screen time in The Kid Who Would Be King is very limited, only appearing in few scenes here and there. It’s not to get the job done, but I would’ve liked to seeing more of him. The same can be said in the character of Morgana, Arthur’s villainous half-sister and main antagonist of the feature, who is played by actress Rebecca Ferguson (The Greatest Showman and Mission Impossible: Fallout). Ferguson is a talented actress, but doesn’t have much material to play with in her role of Morgana. Thus, Ferguson portrayal of the classic Arthurian character of legend is just simply a “cookie cutter” villain that’s just simply there to serve the “big bad” of the feature and nothing more.
Rounding out the cast are several minor supporting characters, including actress Denise Gough (Titanic: Blood and Steel and Stella) as Alex’s mother Mary Elliot, actress Noma Dumezweni (Mary Poppins Returns and Black Earth Rising) as Alex’s school principal Mrs. Lee, and actress Genevieve O’Reilly (The Snowman and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) as Alex’s Aunt Sophie. These three actresses lend their talents in minor roles in the movie, but do decent jobs to get the film to make their sum parts memorable in subservient to the either the main characters or the narrative being told.
Old school magic meets the modern world in the epic adventure movie The Kid Who Would Be King. Director Joe Cornish’s latest film sees the classic tale of Kin Arthur return to the modern age and dealing with a new chosen hero, facing enemies of old, and learning several lessons along the way. While the movie does stumble to find its footing (most notably in its pacing and staging of events), the film finds its stride in its earnest attempts setting values and thematic messages, several acting pieces, and staging a modest family fantasy adventure film. Personally, I think this movie was fairly good and bit better than what I was expecting. Yes, it was really grand and definitely could’ve been better, but (for what its worth) was a decent enough feature that entertained the inner child in me. Plus, I do have to admit that I enjoyed this movie much more than I did with King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. It’s definitely not the definitive cinematic iteration of King Arthur, but (to me) it’s one of the better ones I’ve seeing. However, there are some out there who will probably dismiss this movie altogether. Thus, my recommendation for this movie is an “iffy choice” as there’s definitely will be a division amongst its viewers, but it must be remembered that the film’s target audience is the more tween crowd and not so much adults. In the end, whatever stance you make of this feature, The Kid Who Would Be King is fun modern retelling of the King Arthur legend that’s a suitable kid’s fantasy adventure choice for the whole family.
3.6 Out of 5 (Iffy-Choice)
Released On: January 25th, 2019
Reviewed On: February 5th, 2019
The Kid Who Would Be King is 119 minutes long and is rated PG for fantasy action violence, scary images, thematic elements including some bullying and language