Joe Cornish’s follow-up to his 2011 critical darling Attack the Block is something completely different. Both Block and The Kid Who Would Be King focus on the plight of British youth, but Block is a hoodie horror deconstruction mixed with a shlock homage to B-movie creature features. The Kid Who Would Be King, on the other hand, is a family friendly action adventure in the style of Arthurian legend.
That is, rather, that Arthurian legend drops itself into the life of a modern day boy named Alex (Louis Ashbourne Serkis). After fleeing from a pair of schoolyard bullies (Tom Taylor and Rhianna Dorris), Alex finds himself on a construction site. Sitting, inexplicably, in a concrete stump in the middle of the building site is a sword. A sword which Alex pulls, setting in motion the fantastical events that will change the course of his life forever.
Alex and his friend Bedders (Dean Chaumoo) start gaining the attention of the new student…Merten (Angus Imrie). That night, Alex is haunted with a vision of a flaming skeleton donning ironclad armor. It becomes increasingly clear that the sword is not a mere trinket, but that in fact Alex is the once and future heir to the throne. Too bad he cannot enjoy the spoils of this discovery, as most people do not believe him and the evil sister of King Arthur, Morgana (Rebecca Ferguson), is aiming to return and take the sword for herself.
Alex has four days until Morgana returns to kill him and steal the sword. With each night, her powers grow stronger, and thus there are four major set pieces (before the climax) which grow in size, scope, and gaudy night-streaked spectacle.
As the film progresses, these action scenes become more unwieldy, less exciting, and less aesthetically pleasing. They all feature skeletal automatons which are not too interesting visually or mechanically. They collapse under the pressure of one hit, for the most part. This allows the rag-tag group of children who make up Alex’s round table to appear worthy knights, but it also lowers the stakes.
Not that stakes need to be incredibly high to make an effective fantasy adventure for a family audience. The best set piece in the film has nothing to do with the four nights of Morgana’s attacks, but it is instead a simple sequence of the children learning to fight against some enchanted trees. It is a prime example of how less is more, in a film with one of the more bloated climaxes in recent memory. That it is, in fact, the film’s second climax is all the more indulgent.
Perhaps the second climax would feel more warranted if Ferguson’s villain was given more of a connection to the story of the children. For half of the film, she is underneath the earth, attached to a post by tree roots that encircle her. As much as she is chewing scenery through snarled lips, the bits with her are dramatically limp and possibly too grotesque for the younger contingent of the PG audience.
This makes the standard good vs. evil tale turgid and over-stuffed. It is not overtly novel, and its repetitive action may not be enough to satiate the imaginative desires of its young audience. What makes it work in spite of this, however, is the character camaraderie.
At the film’s outset, it appears like a rough start to contextualize the world of this kids movie on the premise that the world is becoming increasingly more chaotic and dangerous. Off-screen news reports inform us that the world is succumbing to the powers of dictators more than ever before. But Cornish takes this gloomy context and uses it to instill a sense of action and pride in the youth.
Ultimately, this makes The Kid Who Would Be King an honorable story about the heroism in seeing beyond the apparent pettiness of ones villains, of instead making friends of your enemies, of staring an uncertain and dark future in the face and not flinch. Who would have thought the chivalric code would make surprising and admirable thematic material in 2019?
The Kid Who Would Be King is a clunky film in a lot of ways. Like with Attack the Block, the directorial choices do not always yield beautiful camera work. Bill Pope captures some images well, but there is also plenty of motion blur and haphazard action sequences. The narrative is not particularly novel, but it has its charms. The acting is quite strong, particularly from Imrie, who almost makes us forget that Patrick Stewart is shoe-horned into three scenes in his stead.
The film does its job, if not a little clumsily.
The Kid Who Would Be King: B-
As always, thanks for reading!
Like CineFiles on Facebook for updates on new articles and reviews
Check out my page on Letterboxd
—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)