Ever since it was announced, I was really excited for The Kid Who Would Be King, mainly because of the director. See, this film was directed by Joe Cornish, whose previous film was the excellent Attack the Block and he’s been a solid fixture in British comedy for the past 20 years. No matter what the subject was, the idea of a new Joe Cornish film instantly excited me. With this, he’s gone in a tonally different direction to Attack the Block, going for a family action film, with this being a pretty decent film overall, even though there are a few issues I had with it.
The film concerns Alex Elliot, a kid living in London who, when escaping from bullies, stumbles across The Sword in the Stone/Excalibur and finds that he’s able to pull it out. This happens at the same time that Morgana awakens from hundreds of years of being imprisoned, with the chaos of the world awakening her. With his friend Bedders, along with Merlin, in the form of a teenager, Alex has to recruit allies and destroy Morgana before she brings her full forces back to the world during a upcoming solar eclipse. Now on a thematic level, there are some decent ideas in the film. The strongest one is the idea of co-operation and the need for the youth to take action against the problems in the world. In the wake of the recent walkouts by schoolchildren protesting against the inaction against climate change, this is an important message for the young audience to hear. There’s also this anti-Brexit sentiment to the whole thing. Since the reason why Morgana has come back is tied to the world being in chaos and division, even though it isn’t explicit, there is this sense that it has been caused by things like Brexit, with there being an underlying message that the youth will have to stand up to fix the mistakes made by the older generation. Aside from the political element of the film, there’s also some commentary on the nature of storytelling inspired by Arthurian lore, through stories that place heroism as being passed on by bloodright rather than by deeds. For a lot of the film, Alex believes that the reason he has been chosen is because he is descended from Arthur through his dad and that by finding his dad he’ll find his destiny. In many ways, the resolution to this side of the film reminds me of Rey’s character arc in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and this I am glad that this look at the nature of storytelling is becoming more of a thing in fantasy and sci-fi.
The performances meanwhile I found to be a bit of a mixed bag. Louis Ashborne Serkis as Alex is pretty good, selling a sense of bravery and devotion to his friends and his character arc in growing to understand who he is is well executed and Serkis does a good job at delivering it. Dean Chaumoo as Bedders meanwhile works well with Serkis, but his performance just didn’t work for me, going too deeply with the important sounding whispers for my liking. Tom Taylor and Rhianna Doris as Lance and Kay, bullies turned allies for Alex and Bedders, are decent and have good energy, but there isn’t enough time given to their character development, it feeling quite rushed that they become allied with Alex, and this kind of took me out of the film. Angus Imrie as the younger Merlin is the standout of the film, having great energy and skill as a physical comedian, doing so much with simple hand movements and head tilts that just breathed so much life into Merlin. Patrick Stewart as the older Merlin meanwhile does a good job at delivering inspirational speeches to the characters, but I kind of wish it was just Imrie playing Merlin. Rebecca Ferguson as Morganna is a pretty one note villain and she’s not on screen enough to really make an impression, but she is clearly having fun playing the part. Denise Gough is pretty good, having good chemistry with Serkis, but again, I wish more time in the film was dedicated to her, especially with the reveals about her in the third act. I also found some of the cast wasted. Whilst there was a fun little cameo from Adam Buxton (reminding me of Adam and Joe), I thought Mark Bonnar, Alexandra Roach and Nathan Stewart-Jarrett were completely wasted, Roach and Stewart-Jarrett in particular since, as anyone who’s seen Utopia can attest, they have great chemistry and work brilliantly off each other, and I wanted to see that captured here.
On a technical level, the film is solid. There’s a strong atmosphere that is generated throughout the film that allows the real life elements and the fantasy elements to naturally connect with each other, with this helped by solid production design. There’s also good use of on-location shooting throughout the film, especially with the use of Tintagel, which further adds to the atmosphere of the film, and shows how Arthurian lore is seen through the wider population. The design of Morgana meanwhile is great, with the way vines are used creating a solid threatening air that works in the context of a family film. The element that probably best captures the tone of the film is the costume design, with armour over school uniforms, which does a great job at creating a fun atmosphere in the film. The action scenes meanwhile are well executed, showing a good sense of geography throughout them, especially with the final action scene in the school, with Joe Cornish’s direction and Bill Pope’s cinematography creating this childlike atmosphere that just works for the tone of the film.
Overall, The Kid Who Would Be King is a pretty decent film. There are some solid themes in the film and it has the right tone and atmosphere that will really appeal to the younger audience. Whilst I think there are issues with the character development, and it does feel a bit too long, the charm and sense of fun that is generated by the film helps it stand strong.
My Rating: 3.5/5