The Kid Who Would Be King

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  The Kid Who Would Be King
 

Alex (Louis Ashbourne Sirkis) is bullied at school but that does not stop him from protecting his best friend, Bedders (Dean Chaumoo), from those same bullies. They give chase and Alex hides out at an abandoned construction site. In the middle, there is an ancient sword thrust into rock and the boy easily pulls it out, unleashing his destiny as “The Kid Who Would Be King.”

Robin:
There have been many versions of the King Arthur legend from musical-drama, “Camelot (1967),” to musical -comedy, “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1949),” to animated feature, “The Sword in the Stone (1963.” And there have been a number that were kids-oriented versions of the tale – a slot that “The Kidd…” fits right into.

The story begins with an animated picture book description of the legend of Arthur. The book belongs to Alex, whose father gave it to him before he left the boy and his mom (Denise Gough). After Alex finds and draws the sword, an odd looking teen arrives on the scene by the name of Merlin (Angus Imrie). Then, the adventures of the new Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table begin.

The story, by director Joe Cornish, covers all the bases with his modern interpretation of the Arthurian legend. There is Merlin, of course, done with flashy hand prestidigitation by likable Angus Imrie, who, when necessary, can morph into an owl or an old version of himself (Patrick Stewart). And, there is Morgana (Rebecca Ferguson), the evil sorceress out to destroy Arthur-Alex and seize the sword.

Of course, there would not be a round table without knights to sit around it and Alex recruits best friend, Bedders (now Sir Bedders), and turns the loyalty of the bullies, Kaye (Rhianna Dorris) and Lance (Tom Taylor), to his cause to do good. Older kids should enjoy the adventure and, hopefully, identify with the heroes.

The King Arthur tale should have been enough of a story, but the filmmakers feel compelled to tap heavily into their CGI effects budget. If one flaming, evil knight from hell, doing Morgana’s nefarious dirty work is good, then an army of said knight, on flaming steeds, would have to be better. Instead, for me, the bombast and flash overwhelm the actual tale, taking me from the moment.

I wish Cornish and company had stuck to the legend and used the F/X with a more integral eye to the story. Actually, the noisy, seen-it-before finale turns “The Kid Who Would Be King” into something a little less than it could be. They had me for 3/4 of the movie. I give it a B.

Laura:
In the book Alex (Louis Ashbourne Serkis, son of Andy) got from his dad before he before split from Alex's mom ("Colette's" Denise Gough), Morgana (Rebecca Ferguson) descended to the netherworld after failing to usurp her brother King Arthur's throne and would remain there until Britain became lost and leaderless once again.  One day after school, as Alex hides from  his usual bullying tormentors Lance (Tom Taylor) and  Kaye (Rhianna Dorris) by ducking into a construction site, he spies the hilt of a sword embedded in a concrete block and lifts it out, little suspecting he is "The Kid Who Would Be King."

Joe Cornish returns to the director's chair for the first time since his 2011 debut "Attack the Block" with an idea that's been percolating since he saw Boorman's "Excalibur" and Spielberg's "E.T." as a child, beginning with a visual idea of the Lady in the Lake in a modern day bathtub.  With the Western world in turmoil and rage and division the order of the day, what better timing for a reminder of the chivalric code, the unification of former foes to fight a common enemy and a call for youthful leadership?  Cornish's film falters a bit with a vanilla villain and overly extended finale, but it mostly charms as does young lead Serkis.

With his dual-pronged plot of a young boy wishing to reconnect with his dad while Morgana's creeping tree roots encroach on his upstairs bedroom, Cornish's movie often resembles "When a Monster Calls," but his "Attack the Block" aesthetic is present, council housing replacing urban apartment dwellings, society's underdogs unlikely heroes battling a fantastical foe.

Alex is introduced sticking up for his best friend Bedders (Dean Chaumoo) before school when he finds him hanging upside down over a railing, taunted by Lance and Kaye (Bill Pope's camera finds unusual perspectives, the bullies pictured from Bedders' point of view).  His efforts go about how one would imagine with the older, bigger kids.  Back in his room after school and their second run-in with their tormentors, it is Bedders who suggests the sword might be Excalibur. The boys have a good laugh.  But the next morning there is an odd new kid in their class at Dungate Academy.  Merton (Angus Imrie), as he introduces himself, is obviously older, too big for his uniform and the likely new recipient of Lance and Kaye's invective, but we know something about 'Merton' Alex and Bedders don't and it's more than his need for beetle blood, ground bone and beaver urine to keep up his magical strength (all later amusingly to be found in a British version of the Chicken McNugget).

Back at the construction site, Alex makes a bet with Lance and Kaye, their loss ensuring their knighthood, a shrewd bit of unifying strength immediately challenged by Morgana's knights of the dead.  The four, under 'Merton's' guidance and the four rules of the code, will overcome personal struggles as an evil greater than any of them imagined threatens. Alex will learn the truth about his dad and newly appreciate the loving sacrifice of his mom.

Cornish makes all kinds of delightful modern day references back to Arthur's myth, his diverse young cast a call for social democracy. Merlin, both young and old (played by Patrick Stewart) is clad throughout in a Led Zeppelin t-shirt.  But Rebecca Ferguson is a disappointing Morgana - imagine what Tilda Swinton or Helena Bonham Carter might have done with this role - and she becomes a disappointing onslaught of CGI during the climax.  The film also features a false ending leading into an extended finale involving the entirety of Dungate Academy, some of it innovative, most of it cliched.  Still, this is a delightful family film that will introduce a whole new generation to the stories of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table.

Grade:  B-
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