Director: Joe Cornish
Cast: Louis Ashbourne Serkis, Dean Chaumoo, Tom Taylor, Rhianna Dorris
RunTime: 2 hrs
Rating: PG (Some Violence)
Released By: Fox
Official Website: https://www.facebook.com/KidWhoWouldBeKing/
Opening Day: 21 March 2019
Synopsis: Old school magic meets the modern world in the epic adventure THE KID WHO WOULD BE KING. Alex (Ashbourne Serkis) thinks he's just another nobody, until he stumbles upon the mythical Sword in the Stone, Excalibur. Now, he must unite his friends and enemies into a band of knights and, together with the legendary wizard Merlin (Stewart), take on the wicked enchantress Morgana (Ferguson). With the future at stake, Alex must become the great leader he never dreamed he could be.
‘The Kid Who Would Be King’ promises a contemporary twist on the classic King Arthur legend, but we’ll take the medieval version over this modern-day bore anytime.
As conceived by writer-director Joe Cornish, the movie imagines a 12-year-old boy Alex (Louis Ashbourne Serkis) stumbling upon a sword lodged deep in a block of concrete at an abandoned construction site. After pulling it out and bringing it back home, Alex is accosted by a goofy yet supremely confident high school student Mertin (Angus Imrie), who tells him of his destiny to defeat the evil sorceress Morgana (Rebecca Ferguson) and her army of undead demon knights.
It doesn’t take a genius to guess that the sword is in fact the famed Excalibur, or that the student Mertin is really the legendary Merlin in disguise. Neither for that matter would it be any surprise that Alex will come to embrace his destiny as king, and rally his best friend Bedders (Dean Chaumoo) to be one of his loyal knights. Same goes for the pair of older bullies at his school, Lance (Tom Taylor) and Kaye (Rhianna Dorris), whom Alex was running away from the night he finds Excalibur – they too will eventually be counted among his knights, and aid in Alex’s quest to save the world.
To inject urgency into the proceedings, Alex and his friends only have four days to get themselves ready, before an upcoming total solar eclipse will enable Morgana to emerge fully from the Earth’s crust into our world above. Each night offers an opportunity for practice, what with Morgana’s army emerging from the bowels of the Earth to try to snatch the sword from Alex’s grasp. Each day thereafter is training with Merlin, who conveniently cannot appear in human form in our realm after sundown. So the routine goes, thrice in a row, until of course the day of the eclipse itself, when Morgana shows herself in her full glory as a winged fire-breathing dragon.
Frankly, the proceedings are a lot less exciting than they read, coming off mostly bland, tame and unexciting. At no point do you get the sense that Alex and his friends are in any sort of real peril, and therefore that they display any compelling heroism; the latter is also owing to a lack of character development, which fails to adequately convey the emotional vacuum in Alex that his father’s absence for a good part of his childhood has caused. It certainly doesn’t help too that Serkis (son of mo-cap extraordinaire Andy Serkis) is simply too mild as a lead character, such that we never fully buy why Alex is meant to be the chosen one.
In all fairness to Cornish, his writing does have occasional flashes of wit. The Brexit-era context is a nice touch, with multiple references to how the kingdom on Earth is no longer as united as it once had been, and with a growing devotion to tyrants and strongmen. So too the riffs on classic Arthurian elements, such as how Alex summons the Lady of the Lake in a bathtub, or how Merlin’s elixir of beetle blood, beaver urine and ground animal bones happens to be the stuff of modern-day fast-food items like nuggets, soda and ice cream. Even so, these hardly compensate for an altogether dull narrative, which at close to two hours, will test the patience of even its target audience of teenagers and young kids.
This is also Cornish’s sophomore outing as director, and it shows. The CG fantasy sequences are lacklustre, and would clearly have benefitted from someone with a stronger sense of visual imagination. Ditto the action, which barely raises a pulse even at the so-called epic showdown where Alex enlists the help of the whole school to fight off Morgana’s assault. You wouldn’t have figured that the movie had a US$60 million budget, seeing as how the film as a whole comes off scrappy and amateurish.
It has been eight years since Cornish made a splash with his class-conscious science-fiction indie ‘Attack the Block’ that became a sleeper cult hit, but just as how we were ultimately underwhelmed by his debut, so too were we disappointed by his latest. In almost every respect, ‘The Kid Who Would Be King’ fails to live up to its promise, so much so that we wonder the point was of contemporising the King Arthur legend at all. There have been comparisons to classic 80s movies like ‘The Goonies’, which would have been fine if this movie had been released in that era; yet, in today’s day and age, its mix of fantasy and reality needs to be a lot more potent to count for something. As it is, not even the kids are likely to feel kingly sitting through it.
(Bland, tame and unexciting, this contemporary twist on the King Arthur legend will make you wish that they had stuck with the medieval tale instead)
Review by Gabriel Chong