SP Review: 'The Kid Who Would Be King' makes King Arthur weird and exciting

Arts and culture reporter Brandon King gives 'The Kid Who Would Be King' 9/10 stars

There is a scene in "The Kid Who Would Be King" where Sir Patrick Stewart, wearing an extra-large Led Zeppelin t-shirt, conjures a telekinetic maelstrom of friend chicken and cherry soda, just to prove a point about the value of quests — if that does not give you a grasp on what this movie is, I do not know what will. 

Joe Cornish is one of the more unique voices in British filmmaking nowadays, with writing credits on films like 2015's "Ant-Man;" and making an excellent directorial debut with 2011's "Attack the Block," a uniquely funny and nuanced take on alien invasion films. Both are films I have thoroughly enjoyed, but after eight years since his last directing job, I was not sure if he could bring that same cleverness he has in the past. 

Well, I am glad to have been proven wrong. What Cornish has given us with "The Kid Who Would Be King" is what I hoped for and more — a superbly creative take on a familiar legend that is thoroughly entertaining throughout its runtime, but with added heartwarming and family-friendly storytelling. 

Alex Elliot (played by Louis Ashbourne Serkis) is a young kid in modern-day London who lives with his mother (played by Denise Gough) and spends his school days with his best friend Bedders (played by Dean Chaumoo). 

One day, while being pursued by bullies Kaye (played by Rhianna Dorris) and Lance (played by Tom Taylor), Alex finds and pulls a sword from a stone in a construction site. He and Bedders are later met by Merlin (the younger version played by Angus Imrie and the older version played by the aforementioned Stewart), who reveals the sword as the legendary Excalibur, the same sword held by King Arthur himself. 

After proving to the boys his legitimacy, Merlin claims that Alex is destined to be the one true king, like King Arthur was in his time. An ancient sorceress, Morgana (played by Rebecca Ferguson), has now arisen to take the sword for herself in four days time. 

With Excalibur in hand, Alex knights Bedders, along with Kaye and Lance, who are convinced of the story as well. The four of them then embark on a quest to defeat Morgana before she can destroy the world — and hopefully get a good excuse to skip class.

I will be saying this phrase a lot in this review: this film is flat-out fun, and there are a few reasons why. Joe Cornish brings the same sense of humor and pacing that he did to "Attack the Block" to this film, and it really works. There is a great sense of goofy fun that is imbued in this story, and a lot of the jokes and light-hearted storytelling keeps the film moving at a consistent pace. 

In terms of versions of the King Arthur story, the film does not really do anything too different in terms of story. One of the interesting things Cornish does in this film is put the focus squarely on Alex's actions and personality rather than his birthright. It is far from a new idea for a story like this, but Cornish's framing of the character certainly feels that way.

Throughout the film, Alex is a character who is always defined by others' perceptions of him, but like his predecessor, he always tries to go the nobler route. In the few instances where he does mess up, he never feels entitled or bratty. It is a solid portrayal and Serkis does a good job of bringing that likability to the character. 

The other characters do a nice job too. Alex's friends all have their own personalities to them, and they all interact with one another in interesting ways as the journey progresses. Alex's mother, while not ever-present, gets a few nice moments here and there, and Ferguson is absolutely chewing the scenery as Morgana. But Merlin is truly a standout here; Imrie's physical comedy and Stewart's sense of gravitas combine to form a distinctive incarnation of the character, and he steals every second he is on screen.

Surprisingly, this film is smarter than it has any right to be. The film is remarkably specific in its depiction of modern-day Britain with references to Brexit and other world events scattered throughout. While this might result in a few dated references a decade from now, what it also does is make the messages and morals the film tries to get across feel more resonant. 

Cornish's delivery of the film's message feels incredibly non-preachy. By the time the film ends, the sense of cynicism and divisiveness is known, but both the characters and the audience leaves with a sense of hope that feels earned – that if you do good and act honorably, even the most (pun intended) set in stone norms can be changed. It is a rather mature message for a film like this, and I was really impressed with how well it was conveyed.

If there is one simple thing to take away from "The Kid Who Would Be King," it is that it is simply fun. It is a movie that brings you on a delightful adventure with interesting characters and a great modern sensibility that feels both clever and profound. This kind of mixture is not something we see in family films anymore, and just like some of the kids in the audience, I was cheering and engrossed for the ride. This film has all the qualities of a family classic someday, and I hope it finds the audience to do so. 

Overall, I give "The Kid Who Would Be King" a rating of 9/10 stars.


 Reach the reporter at brandon.D.King@asu.edu or follow @TheMovieKing45 on Twitter.

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