Like the iconic sword of Arthurian legend rising out of the water, writer/director Joe Cornish (Attack the Block) emerges with The Kid Who Would Be King, an Excalibur-sharp update of the timeless King Arthur tale, and a new classic in the realm of kid-friendly fantasy films the whole family can enjoy.
The Kid Who Would Be King (TKWWBK from here on) cast its spell on me right from the beginning with a gloriously old-school animation sequence made to resemble the illustrations from a Camelot-themed storybook. It’s an exhilarating scene that warns of impending doom and sets the stage for the movie. It quickly transitions from animation to live-action and sets us in the present day UK, with our young hero, Alex Elliott (Louis Ashbourne Serkis, son of Andy) trying to dodge a pair of bullies. Reduced to hiding in the ruins of an abandoned building, Alex stumbles upon a sword sticking out of a stone. You can guess what happens next… Strange things ensue and a familiar tale unspools in a fun, new way.
This is Louis Ashbourne Serkis’ biggest role to date. He does a decent job for the most part, aside from a couple of overly dramatic/hammy scenes with his onscreen mother (Denise Gough). Dean Chaumoo fares better as his buddy Bedders and Angus Imrie is a scene-stealing wizard, bringing much gusto to the role of young Merlin and magically snapping his way into viewers’ hearts. Patrick Stewart is perfectly cast as his older counterpart and Rebecca Fergusson deftly embodies the evil sorceress, Morgana. Rhianna Doris (Kaye) and Tom Taylor (Lance) pair well together as a couple of cold pricklies in cahoots, who possibly have more to offer.
It’s hard to believe that it’s been 8 years since Joe Cornish’s Attack the Block attacked the block. It still stands out as one of the most memorable preview screenings I’ve attended. (People were really into it!) The screening for TKWWBK didn’t have quite the same fervor; the audience was younger and the energy was different but still positive. Kids (and big kids) were given Medieval Times-style crowns upon entering the theater. I was thrilled, both for the crown and to finally see a new Joe Cornish flick. It’s his first time back in the director’s chair since AtB, and his only credits since then are for co-writing Ant-Man (by committee) and a cameo in Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
Cornish’s distinguishable style is apparent in both Attack the Block and TKWWBK, and he smoothly transitions from the former’s more edgy, ish-talkin’ vibe to the latter’s more earnest and honorable aesthetic. Attack the Block has the better soundtrack and the better ensemble, and John Boyega’s performance is probably my favorite from either movie (and still his best to date), but TKWWBK has more heart, and is accessible to a wider audience. They’re both jewels in Cornish’s crown.
TKWWBK is an enchanting fantasy film — the kind that many aspire to be, but just aren’t. It looks great, it’s clever, and it’s often quite funny. The film’s takedown of fast food had me in stitches. Also noteworthy is the emphasis it places on moral values and ethics, especially in an age when many of our leaders are devoid of both. The film may be a tad preachy for some, but its message is pure and its intentions are true.
As a critical critic, I must indeed criticize, and TKWWBK is not without its flaws. I thought it lagged a little in the end. I yearned for a bigger, better, badder wizard fight. I wish they got better takes of the hammy scenes I previously mentioned. And while I enjoyed a lot of the homages and nods to other fantasy films like The Princess Bride, I wasn’t a fan of the overabundance of those generic flaming skull horsemen guys who looked like they were cut straight out of Peter Jackson’s Tolkien trilogy (or one of the imposters it inspired). I did, however, geek-out over the set design of the abandoned building where Alex discovers the sword. It looks eerily similar to the scene from 2001: A Space Odyssey where they find the monolith on the moon. The stone Alex pulls the sword from even looks like the monolith! Yes, this is utterly inconsequential and most people won’t even realize it, but as a Kubrick fan I was straight cheesin’ from ear to ear.
Within hours of watching the movie, I was itching to see it again and I made it a weekend of Arthurian cinema. TKWWBK earns a spot at the roundtable alongside my other favorite King Arthur films, most notably Excalibur (1981), The Sword in the Stone (1963), and Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975). I look forward to seeing it again and seeing if my enthusiasm remains after multiple viewings. I think it will.
4 out of 5 Nerdskulls
The Kid Who Would Be King is now playing in theaters.
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