Hands up who thought Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur: Legend of the Sword was a brilliant, blazing success? How about Robin Hood last year? Anyone? It’s been a while since we have had a really impressive big-screen version of one these legends that you’ll be hard pressed to find the last good one. Enter Joe Cornish: writer/director of 2011’s hugely popular Attack the Block and screenwriter of Steven Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn and Marvel’s Ant-Man (well, before he and Edgar Wright vacated the project and Peyton Reed eventually took over). The Brit has slowly been making a name for himself as a filmmaker since his debut and after seven years out, he’s ready to tackle one such folklore tale: Excalibur.
Camelot, London, 2018. Thousands of years after the legend of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table, young Alex (Louis Ashbourne Serkis) is stunted. Losing his Dad at a young age has hit him hard and whilst Mum (Denise Gough) is doing her best, he is struggling to find his way and consistent run-ins with school bullies are only exacerbating matters. After one such coming together, Alex finds himself taking refuge in a building site and happens upon a sword sticking out of prominent part of it. The blade, as it turns out, is the aforementioned legendary sword in the stone, and he is soon thrust into an arduous quest to free the world of sorceress Morgana (Rebecca Ferguson) who plans to turn humanity to her whim.
Taking its cues from the 1980’s when such fantasy and friendship films were all the rage – be they The Goonies or Willow, to name a couple – The Kid Who Would Be King is slightly lesser than those classics but in its own way, gives a much-needed jab to the arm of a genre that was in danger of becoming a thing of the past, at least on film (Game of Thrones still holds guard on TV). Brilliantly combining the historical elements of the story in a modern world, Cornish has created something that always feels fresh and exciting, removing the constraints of time and period and circling down to the core of heroes and camaraderie. Indeed, whilst doing so, the director is able to flex his funny bone somewhat with some brilliant sight gags (one in particular was a doozy but the trailers have since ruined the surprise) but they are a little too sporadic for a sustained laugh-rate.
In the lead, Serkis throws himself into it with maturity and wisdom beyond his years, ably supported by his “Knights” Dean Chaumoo, Tom Taylor and Rhianna Dorris, the latter of whom really impressing. Ferguson, fresh from the double whammy success of The Greatest Showman and Mission: Impossible – Fallout, gamely flexes her bad side with glee and true menace, so good in fact is she that you desperately want to see more of her but this being an “origin story” of sorts, she has to take something of a back seat. The same can be said for Sir Patrick Stewart, who appears as the old Merlin (Angus Imrie plays the younger guise) in an extended cameo that while serving a function of sorts, never really works as it should.
If this all sounds like something of a mixed bag, in truth that’s pretty much what it is but The Kid Who Would Be King falls the right side of good to get by with a pass for its sheer exuberance and charm. What it does do is add another bow to Joe Cornish’s now, once again showcasing him as a filmmaker that has unlimited potential and one that is, ironically, almost perfect for a future MCU film, should wounds heal sufficiently.
Scott J.Davis | [rating=3]
Action, Adventure | UK, 2019 | PG | 11th February 2019 (UK) | 20th Century Fox Pictures | Dir.Joe Cornish | Louis Ashbourne Serkis, Denise Gough, Dean Chaumoo, Patrick Stewart, Angus Imrie, Rebecca Ferguson