Movie Review: “The Kid who Would be King

Whether it is “The Goonies” or “WarGames” or “E.T.” or “Labyrinth” or “Flight of the Navigator” or any number of other movies, the 1980s were a great time for a kid to watch other kids on the big screen and fall in love with their over-the-top, often world-changing, adventures.   The new film from “Attack the Block” director Joe Cornish, “The Kid who Would be King,” harkens back to those 1980s films in the best possible way.

Leaping off from the Arthurian legend, “The Kid who Woud be King” stars Louis Ashbourne Serkis as Alex a young man who routinely finds himself bullied, but who refuses to let that change his ideals.  Instead, he continues to stand up for his best friend, Bedders (Dean Chaumoo), despite knowing that it will cost him.  After being chased by bullies Lance (Tom Taylor) and Kaye (Rhianna Dorris), Alex finds a sword in a stone and things get wonky.

“The Kid who Would be King” does a stupendously great job dealing with the outlandishness of the plot.  It offers real stakes for Alex, having him save the world from Morgana (Rebecca Ferguson) alongside Bedders and the bullies as they form a new Round Table. It is a coming of age story, certainly, but it is one with massive dangers along the way and more than a little bit of magic.

Merlin appears in this updated tale as well, played by both Patrick Stewart and Angus Imrie (Merlin and aging being a complex proposition).  It is Stewart’s Merlin who delivers the tale and appears occasionally on screen, but Imrie who absolutely steals the film.  In a movie with a number of laughs, Imrie gets the lion’s share, but it isn’t just in that realm that he succeeds.  Merlin performs spells with a complex series of hand movements, and Imrie is incredibly deft with them.  It is utterly mesmerizing and, not coincidentally, the power of mesmerization is one of Merlin’s best tricks.

If the movie fails anywhere, it is in minimizing Ferguson’s role.  Morgana is slowly building her power over the course of the film and while utterly creepy whether in voiceover or on camera, she is simply not present enough in the film.  Morgana’s minions do most of the battling as she plots, and there are moments where it feels as though she is superfluous – that is, that the evil being battled could be nameless, that it need not be Morgana, and the movie would be no different for the change.  Alex could still be out, wandering around, looking for answers in history and fighting hell spawn, known as Mortes Milles, without Morgana sending them forth.

As for these undead evils, the Mortes Milles, as with all the special effects in the film, they are rendered wonderfully.  The evil in the movie feels palpable and real, so much so that younger members of the audience may find themselves frightened.  This, too, harkens back to some of those 1980s movies – someone who was the right age when “Goonies” or “Gremlins” came out may have been scared by the evil in those works, but too engrossed to look away.  The lure of these teens and pre-teens saving the world (or at least their homes) was simply too great.  Assuredly there will be a set of children who see “The Kid who Would be King” and find the exact same thing.  There may be a sleepless night or two, but those audience members will find the morning yawns worth it.

January is regularly seen as a dumping time for movies, a moment when films of lesser caliber are released.  Do not think that “The Kid who Would be King” falls into that category.  It is stellar family film that will be enjoyed by a wide swath of people.  It offers up thoughts on our world and the ways in which we could be better people by harkening back to the notions of chivalry and the chivalric code, and at the same time delivering oohs and aahs as the kids go on the adventure of a lifetime.

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photo credit:  20th Century Fox

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