Certified critic on Rotten Tomatoes. Member of the Houston Film Critics Society. Also writes for Bounding Into Comics and GeeksHaveGame.
Joe Cornish hasn’t directed a film since the fantastic 2011 sci-fi comedy horror film Attack the Block and hasn’t contributed to a film’s screenplay since Marvel’s Ant-Man in 2015, The Kid Who Would Be King is Cornish’s first directorial effort in seven years. Attack the Block is essentially a unique creature feature (and a dazzling debut for Star Wars and Pacific Rim: Uprising star John Boyega) that fell under the radar, so The Kid Who Would Be King has an enormous amount of potential and a creative force behind it that could possibly drive the film into uncharted territory.
Alex (Louis Ashbourne Serkis, Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle) has always believed in telling the truth and standing up for what’s right, but school bullies Lance (Tom Taylor, The Dark Tower) and Kaye (Rhianna Dorris) get the upper hand on Alex and his cowardly best friend Bedders (feature film debut of Dean Chaumoo). Alex and Beddars are at the bottom of the food chain at Dungate Academy and Alex throws in the towel on believing in any sort of magic because of it.
Armed with a childhood book detailing the adventures of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, Alex unearths a mystical sword that becomes a wanted item of the underworld. Accompanied by a young version of Merlin (Angus Imrie), Alex is believed to be a descendant of Arthur and his so called friends are his new knights, but Arthur’s black magic wielding half-sister Morgana (Rebecca Ferguson, Mission: Impossible – Fallout) has suddenly awakened in the underworld and seeks Alex’s sword as a weapon to awaken her army and bring her back to the land of the living.
The art direction of The Kid Who Would Be King is its most impressive quality. The animated opening amplifies the story book quality the film already has and the animation is different enough to not feel similar to other animated films currently in theaters. Everything relating to Morgana, the underworld, and her undead bone warriors are visually the best part of the film. Joe Cornish knows how to create memorable on-screen monsters and the undead warriors are no different. They whisper orders like an inner monologue voicing someone’s deepest temptations, glow in an eerie orange color, and ride horses that are just as creepy as they are. Morgana is typically portrayed through either tree vines that have a mind of their own or through the unholy dragon creature she can turn into. The villains are legitimately the only enjoyable aspect of The Kid Who Would Be King.
There are too many hiccups and bumps in the road in the storytelling and character development of The Kid Who Would Be King to make it a worthwhile experience. The four kids are at constant odds with each other and seem to put themselves through unnecessary conflict through half the film. There is an inner issue between Alex, Bedders, Lance, and Kaye that is nearly resolved at one point, but is essentially revisited and milked to drag out another unneeded 20 minutes of the film. Merlin has been around for centuries, but is terrible at actually training these children for the inevitable. Merlin drains his magic energy too soon and too often at a moment’s notice and only a trip to local chicken joint Lip Smackin’ Chicken can revive him (a revolting mixture of beetle blood, beaver urine, and ground animal bone is apparently part of the Lip Smackin’ Chicken food formula).
The fantasy film drags out its tender moments at every opportunity. Alex’s journey is one that sees him traveling all over with an emotional spectrum that bounces all over almost as much as he does. With a runtime of two hours, The Kid Who Would Be King already feels long winded, but Alex whines in a way that is more annoying than Bedders’ timid personality. Alex never shuts up and always has some stupid speech to go along with his regretful tears to his mother (portrayed by Denise Gough) or while getting weepy in the arms of an older Merlin (Patrick Stewart).
If you had the power to enlist anyone for your army that would carry out your will, why on earth would you only want children in that army? The film makes it a point to bring strength into it, but whether or not a bully is the strongest person you’ve ever met certainly adults would be more logical to recruit especially if you had the magic of hypnotism on your side. It also seems impossible to waste the talents of someone like Sir Patrick Stewart, but Stewart running around in a faded Led Zeppelin shirt and sneezing as he turns into an owl seems beneath the accomplished English actor.
The Kid Who Would Be King is visually magical with impressive special effects and an inventive art direction that captures your imagination and fancifully plays with the visual part of your brain for a solid two hours. The film is a modern take on the legend of King Arthur while taking a few creative liberties along the way. While the film seems to embrace the message of not giving up no matter the obstacle, its overwhelming milking of emotion is practically unbearable as is its questionable story structure. With elements of Men in Black and Alice in Wonderland, The Kid Who Would Be King will likely appeal to children and families, but is a failed attempt at enchantment for anyone with half a brain.
© 2019 Chris Sawin