Review: ‘The Kid Who Would Be King’ (once and future)

Don’t talk down to kids; arm them.

Alerted his friend Bedders (Dean Chaumoo) is being picked on by school bullies Lance (Tom Taylor) and Kaye (Rhianna Dorris), Alex (Louis Ashbourne Serkis) intercedes but ends up in detention. Racing home to avoid further confrontation, he ducks into a nearby demolition site… happening upon a curious sword sticking out of a rock. It pulls free easily, of course, leaving Alex to wonder if it’s a prank or a reality show stunt. Bedders agrees with the assessment, but a new kid in school (Angus Imrie) seems strangely interested in Alex. It is soon revealed Morgana (Rebecca Ferguson), the sworn enemy defeated by King Arthur ages ago, is returning because of the fear and division in the world… and it’s up to Alex to stop her from enslaving them all.

More than a few terrible and/or uninteresting takes on the legend of King Arthur have appeared over the years, all held in comparison to the Holy Grail itself: Excalibur. While far from perfect, the 1981 film featured a cast of relative unknowns who went on to become celebrities; nothing since seems to measure up. Writer/director Joe Cornish knows a little something about impossible odds and taking on overwhelming foes — along with relative unknowns Jodie Whittaker and John Boyega — in his 2011 surprise cult classic Attack the Block. With a medieval menace replacing alien forces and a subtext on facing down bullies, is this version worthy of Tim the Enchanter or merely being taunted a second time?

As a modern take on Arthurian legend for the ‘tween set, Kid happily pulls very few punches. More Harry Potter than Diary of a Wimpy Kid, the movie conveys dangers similar to Neil Gaiman’s Stardust, avoiding spoof and silliness while retaining whimsy. It earns its PG rating, walking right up to the edge and spitting over the side. The child cast appeared more than up for the challenge, including some clever sequences during a crash-course for knightly skills. While the adults are pushed aside (as is often the case) so the kids can be heroic, the film’s mythological explanation for this is a plot device unto itself, a testament to the creativity and forethought going into this production… along with a positive message reinforced with believable consequences if ignored.

The trailers betray little about what’s really coming — or how cool it looks — as evil appropriately escalates, ever-growing stronger. With breathtaking English countrysides, moors, and known locations, the production offers up plenty to look at. Unique and in-story solutions along with actual skill-use rule the day; it’s live-action Dungeons & Dragons. The ending does unfortunately stumble a bit regarding realism in the face of medieval combat and its actual consequences, but it’s also no secret our heroes are destined to prevail along with being fun to watch. No one seems to have told Rebecca Ferguson she was cast as the villain in a kid’s movie, channeling her inner Helen Mirren until you can almost hear her chanting: “Anál nathrach, orth’ bháis’s bethad, do chél dénmha!”

The true theme herein, however, is doubt and a lack of courage leading to self-defeat, whether facing a bully in the schoolyard or a rising ancient sorceress. The film addresses how fear can hold one back from doing the right thing, especially if it’s a sacrifice for others. Shown for only a moment, a rack of newspapers features crisis headlines and political rhetoric, but the message is simple: nothing can stop evil from sowing discourse if good people can’t stop fighting with each other long enough to address the real threat. Pretty sophisticated for a kid’s film, right?

The Kid Who Would Be King is rated PG for fantasy action violence, scary images, thematic elements including some bullying, language, and keeping to the code.

Three skull recommendation out of four

“Come with me if you want to RULE THE WORLD.”

Speak up, Mortal -- and beware of Spoilers!

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