The Kid Who Would Be King
Reviewed by REGGIE WOLTZ
In our darkest hour, King Arthur will return to save the world. Or, so the legend goes. With Tom Brady in the Super Bowl yet again, now seems an opportune time for some saving. In The Kid Who Would Be King, writer-director Joe Cornish has updated the classic story of Camelot, spinning an allegory for our fractured world.
London boy Alex Elliot (Louis Ashbourne Serkis, son of Andy) and his best friend (Dean Chaumoo) are constantly bullied at school. One day, Alex wanders into a vacant lot (where luxury condos are set to be built, because of course they are, it’s 2019) and finds a sword stuck in a stone. Intrigued, he extracts the blade and begins to suspect that he’s the modern-day Arthur. His hunch is confirmed when an excitable boy, claiming to be the fabled wizard, Merlin, suddenly appears at his school.
The wizard — who switches between a young form (Angus Imrie) and an older (Patrick Stewart) — proves his bona fides by casting powerful spells via a frantic series of hand slaps that look like a Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly bit.
Centuries ago, Arthur and Merlin bested the evil witch Morgana (Rebecca Ferguson), imprisoning her in an underground lair so dank and stuffy, you expect the R train to rumble through any moment. Now that the aboveground world is leaderless and bitterly divided — the weaker we are, the stronger she gets — the time is ripe for Morgana’s return. She hopes to claim the magic sword, Excalibur, and presumably land a lucrative contract screaming in a corner box on CNN.
To counter Margana and her undead army, Alex builds his own roundtable, recruiting his one-time bullies (Rhianna Dorris and Tom Taylor) to the cause. Surprisingly affective lessons on the chivalric code and the importance of civility soon follow.
Cornish, who hasn’t directed a film since the excellent 2011 teens-versus-aliens movie Attack the Block, has created a movie with the goofy charm of 1980s kids adventure flicks, such as The Goonies or The NeverEnding Story. It’s gentle — and almost completely bloodless. During the climax, a fire-breathing Morgana battles an army of school kids and none appears to get even an eyebrow singed.
In the end, the premise of the world needing Arthur’s return may not be so farfetched. With the blend of wholesomeness, humor, and classic adventure that Cornish infuses, the audience is easily enabled to escape into this alternate universe. Alas, after two hours, everyone must return to a reality where it might take magic more powerful than Merlin’s just to reopen the government.
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