Joe Cornish huffed and puffed and blew down the gates of Hollywood in summer 2011 with his critically-acclaimed inner-city alien invasion flick Attack the Block, blowing back the hair of sci-fi fans the world over in the process. In the intervening eight years, Cornish hasn’t had much on his platter, his solitary IMDB credit one of a small army of writers on Marvel’s Ant-Man (prior to that, he earned marks co-writing Tintin). After a long holiday away from the director’s chair, Cornish’s latest The Kid Who Would be King slashes into theaters in the midst of January’s dumping ground and despite being a somewhat imaginative PG-take on King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table plopped in 21st century London, this fails to feel like the brainchild of someone who’s been methodically tinkering away at a passion project in the many-year interim and seems more like a desperate last minute plea to not be forgotten to the annals of directorial history. In short, it’s just not that special.
The Kid Who Would Be King is first and foremost (as the title implies) a kid’s movie, and not necessarily the kind of kid’s movies that parents will uncover appreciation equal to that of their pint-sized offspring – who most likely will enjoy this a lot. There’s flashes of something darker tucked beneath the rose-colored facade but Cornish and Co. never manages to fulfill the promise of an Army of Darkness for kids, despite some visual pop that occasionally suggests otherwise. Some more-than-half-decent creature design yields imposing flaming skeleton-cronnies and the last act battle makes the most of its schoolground setting but it all feels like cool window dressing for a by-the-numbers quest set to easy mode.
Louis Serkis (son of Andy, heir to the precious) is Alex, a brave box-faced boy with a red down jacket who just might be the descendent of King Arthur. Alex lives a predictably humdrum life as the sole friend to bully-catnip Bedders (Dean Chaumoo) and son to a worrying mum (Denise Gough), fending off older assailants Lance (Tom Taylor) and Kaye (Rhianna Dorris) in his downtime. Alex pores over Arthurian legend, reading from a book gifted him by his dad, an inscription naming him “the once and future king”. It’s the only means by which Alex can connect with his long lost father, the absentee parental figure into which he pours all the good intentions he can muster. One evening, his favored bullies hot on his tail, Alex falls into an abandoned lot and nonchalantly pulls Excalibur from a concrete pillar, awakening an ancient evil known as Morgana (Rebecca Ferguson, wasted behind CGI and a total lack of material) and setting in motion his destiny to save humankind.
The plot, co-opted from a script written by Cornish, is the kind of airdropped royal adventure formula we’ve seen a million times before – chosen hero must defeat bland evil being before clock strikes midnight. Unfortunately, Cornish doesn’t find a lot of opportunity to flip the script and take his family-friendly adventure down unfamiliar avenues, instead white-washing it with banal moral platitudes, sermonizing about being kind and honest and coming together as one, and dosing it with an obnoxious amount of hand flapping magic courtesty of the mostly overbearing and annoying kid version of Merlin (Angus Imrie). On the one hand, Cornish’s material makes for an especially kind-hearted display of goodness triumphing but the fact that that good-heartedness comes in such a notably bland, one note package is an obvious detractor.
At a rather unnecessary two hour runtime, The Kid Who Would be King can feel like a slog, especially when it plays gotcha! with its three act structure. The promise of Patrick Stewart as Merlin manifests as somewhat of a cheat seeing as the great thespian only appears as the “adult” version of the character, gracing the screen but three times. Ultimately, Cornish’s latest is all somewhat pleasant but ultimately entirely forgettable and beyond serving as an upbeat-enough outing for families with young boys, I can’t really recommend this benign redux. No need to hail this king, you’ll forget he existed at all in no time flat.
CONCLUSION: ‘The Kid Who Would Be King’ is a good-natured but ho-hum reimagining of the Legend of King Arthur, supplanting Good Life Lessons in lieu of innovative storytelling. Only kids and families need apply.
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