Stories of childhood wish fulfillment are popular for a reason. A seemingly normal kid has their life changed for the better when they learn it is their destiny to save the world. That is what drove the Harry Potter franchise. It is easy for little kids to get swept away by these tales. The Kid Who Would Be King applies the formula to the legend of King Arthur, continuing that story into the present day. It sounds kind of silly, but is quite likable, with a charming protagonist, a light touch and a positive message. It is a satisfying time-filler while families wait for The Lego Movie 2 to come out in a couple of weeks.
Alexander Elliot is a twelve year-old who lives with his mother and gets picked on by bullies. While running from those bullies, he ends up in an abandoned construction site where he finds a sword stuck in a stone. He pulls it out, leading him into an adventure involving the wizard Merlin and Arthur’s vengeful half-sister, Morgana. The movie is respectful of its origins, but also has fun with its concept. The action gets a little intense without ever being particularly life-threatening and the humor is actually sometimes funny.
The Kid Who Would Be King (115 minutes without the end credits) modernizes its famous source material, adding themes of honesty and friendship to the heroism. Of course it only relates the bits where Arthur and his knights were noble and brave, but those are the best bits. The way it parallels the story is clever, if obvious. However, the emphasis is on the characters, not the mythology. It builds on the original tale, instead of leaning on it. Writer/director Joe Cornish, directing his second big screen feature (after the enjoyable 2011 alien invasion thriller Attack the Block), has faith in his spin and that allows its charms to shine.
Chief among those is its young cast. Louis Ashbourne Serkis is engaging as Alexander, a nice kid who lacks self-confidence. After he grabs the sword, he ends up with responsibilities he feels incapable of living up to. The screenplay grounds his anxieties, even with all the craziness surrounding him. Dean Chaumoo is his best friend, Bedders. At first, he seems like comic relief, but he is given his own small arc. Tom Taylor and Rhianna Dorris play their reluctant allies. They are fine, if mainly products of the plot. The most entertaining performance is by Angus Imrie as Merlin, who disguises himself as a teenager so he can fit in at Alexander’s school. He has no idea how absurd he is. Imrie just owns the goofiness of the character and is fun to watch.
The Kid Who Would Be King is not great. It is redundant at times (causing it to drag in the middle and again at the end) and some of the plot turns are pretty contrived. That said, I appreciated that it focused a lot more on the heroes than on their obstacles. Cornish understood that the villain is important for what she represents, not for who she is. The issues Alexander must deal with in order to save the world are personal, and therefore more relatable than battling demons. The enemy they have to slay to complete their quest, immaturity, is just as daunting.
This is a pleasant movie, with some amusing jokes, decent action and a solid story. It does not condescend or pander to adults with out of place references. It is a kid’s movie and my inner child liked that very much.
3¼ out of 5
Louis Ashbourne Serkis as Alex
Dean Chaumoo as Bedders
Tom Taylor as Lance
Rhianna Dorris as Kaye
Angus Imrie as Young Merlin
Denise Gough as Mary
Rebecca Ferguson as Morgana
Written and Directed by Joe Cornish