Synopsis: A band of kids embark on an epic quest to thwart a medieval menace.
Stars: Louis Ashbourne Serkis, Rebecca Ferguson, Dean Chaumoo, Tom Taylor, Rhianna Dorris, Angus Imrie, Patrick Stewart, Denise Gough
Director: Joe Cornish
Running Length: 120 minutes
TMMM Score: (8/10)
Review: Is it too early to make a reference to a song from Mary Poppins Returns? Oh well, I’m going for it anyway as I kick off this review. In one of the highlight numbers in that 2018 family film, Mary sings that “The cover is not the book, so open it up and take a look” and that more than applies to The Kid Who Would Be King, a movie I easily looked past as a 10am Saturday screening was drawing near. Usually, family movies that screen early in the morning on weekends were films I decided against and the title just didn’t appeal to me in the slightest. Convinced to go by my partner who loves these types of medieval tales, I’m so glad I gave in because this is a dandy of a film that works on multiple levels, delivering entertainment for all ages.
Whether you’ve grown up on the stories of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table or are like me and have just seen Disney’s The Sword in the Stone a whole bunch of times, you’ll already be familiar with the colorfully animated prologue that opens the movie. Detailing the magic and mystery surrounding the legendary King, his sword Excalibur, and the power struggle he waged with his evil half-sister Morgana, King Arthur represented the best of what people could aspire to be while Morgana fed off people’s unhappiness. Banishing his witchy sis to an underground prison after she tried to overthrow his rule, we understand the power anyone possessing the sword Excalibur will wield. Flashing forward thousands of years to an alternate universe modern day London that is considerably more downtrodden (newspapers feature depressing headlines of global despair), it’s clear the golden days of Camelot are finally fading.
Unbeknownst to him, young Alex (Louis Ashbourne Serkis) is about to become the hero he never knew he could be. Living with his single mom and trying to survive the school day with his friend Bedders (Dean Chaumoo) without being bullied by Lance (Tom Taylor) and Kaye (Rhianna Dorris), he’s an ordinary kid about to go on an extraordinary journey. On his way home on night, he evades Lance and Kaye by entering a construction site where he finds Excalibur, unleashing its awesome power and corresponding enemies at the same time. Now, with Morgana gaining strength and sending her minions to retrieve the sword, Alex must enlist his friend and their bullies to form a present-day Knights of the Round Table and defeat the sorceress before she can break free and condemn the world to darkness.
Director and screenwriter Joe Cornish has given us something we don’t get that often – an original story. Remarkably, The Kid Who Would Be King isn’t an adaptation of a previous YA novel or based off of a video game. It’s a fresh product from a director that has injected his film with equal amounts of nostalgia and fun. I’ve seen the movie compared favorably to The Goonies and E.T. and I can see where people are making the connection but this very much charts its own course as well. It’s not the most polished family-centric film you’ll see this year and there are some filmmaking dots that aren’t connected as nicely as I would have liked but it’s exuberance more than makes up for any gaps in plot or pace.
Cornish has cast the film well with amiable child actors that don’t prove cloying or earnest with the material. Serkis (who looks remarkably like his talented dad, Andy) leads the film with distinction, handling the fantasy elements with easy while navigating some emotional terrain quite believably. I also quite liked Chaumoo as his nebbish friend that turns his meekness into a virtue. If the two bullies feel a bit one-dimensional and their arc of redemption a little stale, it isn’t the fault of Taylor and Dorris who do more than go through the motions with their stock characters. There’s a spirited supporting turn by Angus Imrie as a teenaged Merlin who only changes into the aged wizard (Patrick Stewart, Green Room) to make a point…like a mom using your middle name when she means business. As Morgana, Rebecca Ferguson (The Greatest Showman) is little more than a cameo but she slinks around her well-rendered dirty dungeon nicely.
At a solid two hours and featuring a few supposed climaxes, the movie stretches things just a tad longer than necessary but it’s a small nitpick for a film that works wondrously most of the time. Though it ends with the suggestion a sequel is possible, it doesn’t feel like this was always intended to be the kick start of a new franchise. If Cornish and company were all game to return and the same spirited approach was taken, this could lead to something special that has a lasting impact on audiences.