THE KID WHO WOULD BE KING – Review
This week the multiplex presents another retelling of a familiar, romantic legend. You may be wondering whether we’re going to endure another revival of ROBIN HOOD since the stench of that abomination from two months ago has finally cleared from theatres (last week it garnered several well-earned Razzie nominations). No we’re not going to that exact time frame, for this new film starts a bit before, then jumps (leaps and bounds really) to the present day. It’s somehow a reboot and retelling of the story of Arthur, complete with knights, wizards, dragons, and that magical sword Excalibur, of course. And this time it’s a lad of thirteen or fourteen years, Alex, who is THE KID WHO WOULD BE KING.
This adventure starts with some backstory, namely a spiffy animated prologue rendered in the style of old pen and ink illustrations which whittles down the Arthurian legend to the basics, ending with the banishment of sorcerous Morgan Le Fey AKA Morgana to the underworld (dragged down literally by slithering tree roots). Freeze frame of Arthur and his aides on (how about that) the cover of a children’s storybook. Speaking of kids, we then meet the hero Alex (Louis Ashbourne Serkis) as his single Mum (Dad’s long gone) sends him off to a posh private school. But before class, he’s got to rescue his BFF Bedders (Dean Chaumoo) from two taller, older bullying students, Kaye (Rhianna Dorris) and Lance (Tom Taylor). No good deed goes unpunished, so that night, the devilish duo chase Alex through a park. Ducking into a housing construction site, he finds a sword sticking out of a concrete block. Alex easily plucks it out and heads home. He doesn’t see that this action has caused a stirring far beneath London. Morgana (Rebecca Ferguson) is awake, and as she tries to free herself of the restraining tree roots, she commands her army of brimstone-infused undead warriors. At dawn, miles away, a naked young man emerges from the mist. It is Merlin (Angus Imrie) who casts a spell on a patrol car and hitches a ride into London. At the school, he finds Alex and tells him that during the days-away solar eclipse, Morgana and her army will rise from the Earth and enslave humanity. Can Alex train and prepare along with his “knights” (Bedders and their two enemies, now united) in time to destroy Morgana in her underworld lair before the sun is blotted out, maybe for good?
Alex, the title “kid”, is played with vigor, determination, and just the right touch of vulnerability by the talented Serkis (yes he’s “mo-cap master” Andy’s son). He deftly balances the leadership qualities for the “one and future” along with some apprehension and sadness, particularly when he learns the truth about his father during this “hero’s journey”. Serkis is the story’s sturdy foundation, while its manic zany energy comes from the comedic charms of Imrie who appears to have a blast as the immortal wizard (it’s explained that he’s got the Benjamin Button aging backward bug), It’s a testament to his acting chops that he’s just as entertaining as his aged “true self” played by Sir Patrick Stewart, who pops up a few times to add some gravitas and keeps the kiddos “on point”. Luckily his heroic character is as compelling as the tale’s villain (really villainess) played with silky, slithery bad girl glee by Ferguson, who’s just as menacing in her sultry human form as she is in her flying, fire-breathing “upgrade”. But there’s also terrific comedy relief from Chaumoo as the jittery beleaguered Bedders. He and Serkis are inspired counterparts to the story’s early antagonists portrayed with dead-eyed cruelty by Dorris and Taylor. While Alex and Bedders must find their inner courage, these two have the more complex arc as they must find their long-repressed empathy and humanity. There’s also great supporting work by Denise Gough as Alex’s confused, but still sympathetic and nurturing mother.
With his first feature film since 2011’s (!) ATTACK THE BLOCK, director/writer Joe Cornish ably upgrades the ancient fables and legends by injecting the rollicking energy of the classic movie “kid clubs” (going back to “Our Gang” and especially the 1980s cable TV movie staples like THE GOONIES, THE EXPLORERS, and even THE MONSTER SQUAD). This pays off well in the slapstick and special effects finale that unites a whole school against nearly unstoppable odds. Smartly Cornish hangs on to his PG rating by not making the forces of evil too horrific, though the charred demons on horseback bursting through the grass and Earth could elicit nightmares in the youngest viewers (the warriors seem to have lava flowing through their veins), while older film fans might recall the creations of effects genius Ray Harryhausen in his Sinbad series and especially in JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS (the children of the Hydra). But the scary stuff is offset with some great bits of humor and whimsy, usually from Imrie’s rubbery spell-casting hand movements (I expect kids will be imitating them in the lobby and during the ride home). And though this clocks in at two hours, Cornish keeps the pace brisk while also offering good lessons on duty, honor, and courage. Kids of all ages should engage and identify with THE KID WHO WOULD BE KING.
3.5 Out of 5