Not long after the world was given a new Robin Hood (2018) movie that nobody wanted, we are given another King Arthur-inspired movie that also no one was clamoring for. However, it appears Joe Cornish’s new film, The Kid Who Would Be King (2019), is the Arthurian film we need – especially in comparison to Guy Ritchie’s gritty CG take on the legend. Cornish’s Harry Potter-esque modern integration of the legend is a lot of fun, featuring a solid cast of young talent that is hard not to cheer for.
The Kid Who Would Be King is family fun adventure done right
Alex (Louis Ashbourne Serkis) is a normal kid who gets bullied until he finds a sword stuck in a stone pillar. He pulls out the blade, and finds himself continuing on the legend of King Arthur. Merlin (Angus Imrie/Patrick Stewart) arrives and confirms that the sword is Excaliber. Alex recruits his best friend, Bedders (Dean Chaumoo), and his enemies, Lance (Tom Taylor) and Kaye (Rhianna Dorris), to be his loyal knights while committing to the quest to defeat Morgana (Rebecca Ferguson).
Angus Imrie is without a doubt my favorite part of this film. He has a wealth of charisma and plays young Merlin with such interesting idiosyncrasies. Merlin is wise, but also quite unaware of the culture he now finds himself in, which opens up the possibilities for some very funny interactions. When he first arrives in the world, he’s as naked as a newborn, and initially just puts on a long t-shirt. He first talks to a cashier at a small store, and then two police officers – with each interaction allowing Merlin to demonstrate his powers. His spellcasting in this film is one of my favorite entries into the Arthur legend, as the spells are a series of odd hand gestures accompanied by an intense look in the eye. Imrie plays the role just big enough to really steal the show; additionally, the moments where Patrick Stewart is brought in to portray the older Merlin work just as well.
The main four knights of the round table – Serkis, Chaumoo, Taylor, and Dorris – are mostly solid as well. I felt that Dorris does a better job of demonstrating her internal struggle with facial expressions. I could see her doubting her past actions and debating if she was truly capable of taking on the chivalrous code more than Taylor. I thought all four had solid chemistry, and definitely were able to keep me rooting for them to succeed: an important aspect for a hero’s journey story.
Cornish’s film looks pretty great as well, which was not something I expected. I really enjoyed the design for most of the soldiers and Morgana. However, I did not enjoy the design in its entirety – for example, some of the design of the Underworld…Hell…whatever it is, seems far too small. Fortunately, the special effects look solid overall, which is not what I would have expected given the apparent scale of the production. While the story adds some new aspects to the legend, some of them don’t seem to make much sense…one, in particular, is that everyone who isn’t Alex or who haven’t been knighted by him vanish whenever evil arrives. This seems to imply that no one was in any danger at all until he pulls the sword – but the absence of everyone does make some of the action set pieces more unique.
While The Kid Who Would Be King is probably twenty minutes too long, the movie overall is extremely enjoyable. Fans of fantasy, underdog stories, or the various kids learning they are more than just an ordinary individual tales will likely find similar joy in this movie. My 14-year-old daughter and I were both pleasantly surprised by the film. The Kid Who Would Be King charmed its way to the Not Quite Golden, Ponyboy rating.