When it comes to kid’s films, “wish fulfillment” has to be one of the most popular genres — who wouldn’t want to find out they’re a wizard and get to attend a magical school — but there is always a price for such granted wishes, mainly some villainous bastard will want you dead. In the case of director Joel Cornish’s The Kid Who Would Be King, not only does a bullied kid discover he is “The Chosen One,” but he also finds out he must save the world from darkness and evil. And you thought your middle school years were tough.
The movie opens with a nice animated sequence explaining the history of King Arthur and his evil half-sister Morgana, who, once banished by the wizard Merlin, gave one final decree before being sent to the underworld, “When you are long gone, when hearts are hollow and the land is lost with weakness, I will return.” The story then jumps to the modern setting where we find the world is pretty much full of despair and corruption. We are introduced to twelve-year-old Alex (Louis Ashbourne Serkis) who is finding his early days of secondary education to be a bit of a trial, with him and his best friend Bedders (Dean Chaumoo) being constantly bullied by a couple of older students named Lance (Tom Taylor) and Kaye (Rhianna Dorris). It’s while running from these particular bullies that Alex ends up hiding in a nearby construction site where he finds and extracts a mysterious sword that was embedded in a concrete block.
Later he and Bedders figure out that this sword is the legendary Excalibur — thanks to Google Translate, they are able to read the inscription on the blade — and though this seems like a cool idea at first, things take a rather dark turn when a newly awakened Morgana (Rebecca Ferguson) sends forth a fiery skeletal warrior, known as a Mortes Milles, to kill the kid and retrieve the magical blade. Luckily for Alex and Bedders, the new kid at school turns out to be the wizard Merlin (Angus Imrie), looking like a teenager due to his ageing backward, and he informs Alex that it is up to him to stop Morgana before she enslaves all of England and the world, also pointing out that he has four days to pull this off.
Joel Cornish’s The Kid Who Would Be King is a fun adventure film, one that can be enjoyed by the whole family as one can’t knock its core message of making the world a better place. Alex and Bedders befriend the two bullies — making allies out of enemies as Arthur once did — and most importantly, they all learn about the Chivalric Code and that being honest with each other is one of the more important things in life. The film also takes an interesting direction with Alex believing that the key to his mission is in the finding of his estranged father. His mother had stated that he has “his own demons to battle,” not realizing that she meant his dad was an angry alcoholic and not a descendant of heroes. It should be noted that the film does play fast and loose with elements of the Arthurian story, but it neatly sidesteps this issue by having Merlin state, “Legends are mere rumours whispered down the centuries. Written and re-written, told and re-told, sometimes by the rich and powerful so they can hold onto power.” From this, Alex gleans that he isn’t a blood relation to the legendary King Arthur and that Excalibur is not handed down by birthright but by individual merit, with the Lady of the Lake granting the sword to one who she believes is worthy of the quest.
Being this is a kid’s film, with a child destined to save the world from dark forces, the writers had to come up with a way to keep adults out of the way and, in this case, it’s revealed early on that when night falls, and the Mortes Milles crawl up from the underworld, only the rightful bearer of the sword and those he knights can see them. This is a rather clever way of handling that particular problem, but more interesting is that during this time period, all the adults actually seem to have vanished as if our heroes are fighting in an alternate dimension. This all leads to Alex and his friends having their final confrontation with Morgana at their school, where Alex will U-knight the entire student body.
• The Sword in the Stone and Excalibur have often been depicted as two different weapons, one being owned by Uther Pendragon while the other is created by the Lady of the Lake, but in no version of the myth is it implied that Merlin created Excalibur.
• Alex and Bedders use Google Translate to figure out the Latin writing on the sword’s guard, they then dash up to the attic to find a book on the Knights of the Round Table, but why not just use Google to find out more on the sword? There is no need to hold a scavenger-hunt in a dusty attic when you have access to Wikipedia.
• Patrick Stewart plays the wizard Merlin, but this is not his first time in an Arthurian movie; he once played Guinevere’s father in John Boorman’s Excalibur.
• I know this is a “Kids Empowerment” movie and thus are protagonists are all children, but I don’t understand why Alex didn’t knight any adults for the big final battle.
• Bedders uses a metal duplication spell to outfit all of the student body with armour and swords but for some reason, he decides to duplicate the road sign that he’d used as a shield instead of duplicating an actual shield.
• Even though the kids had a whole afternoon of combat training, as well as a variety of Home Alone type traps to fight off the Mortes Milles, I still call bullshit on the fact that not one kid so much as gets a bloody nose during this fight.
As a fantasy film aimed at younger viewers, The Kid Who Would Be King works rather well — what kid wouldn’t want to wield a magic sword against the forces of darkness? — and the appearance of Sir Patrick Stewart as the wizard Merlin is a definite bonus for older audiences, but there is more going on here than just a simple fantasy film as Cornish is clearly speaking to the troubles that face our world today, a world full of Trump craziness and Brexit stupidity, yet Cornish never lets the film become overly heavy-handed with that aspect as the film ends on a mostly uplifting note that could be best summed up by Whitney Houston, “I believe the children are our future. Teach them well and let them lead the way.”
The Kid Who Would Be King (2019) – Review
Movie Rank - 6.5/10
If you can let slide the implausibility of a group of middle-schoolers being able to fight off an army of the dead a lot of fun and entertainment can be found within Joel Cornish’s The Kid Who Would Be King.