Did we really need another King Arthur movie? Apparently, because we got one. The story of Arthur and his knights has been told and retold countless times in cinema, most recently in two, yes TWO, of 2017’s worst films “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” and “Transformers: The Last Knight”. Now in 2019 a new take on the tale has hit the big screen, albeit one that’s a little more inspired and original. “The Kid Who Would Be King” hasn’t made too many waves at the box office in its debut but it does offer an intriguing concept nonetheless by taking Excalibur into the modern day to attempt to create its own legend with family friendly flair. So does “The Kid Who Would Be King” do enough to live up to its legendary inspiration or is it just the latest in an growing line of failures borrowing from one of the most legendary stories ever told? Let’s take a look. This is my review of “The Kid Who Would Be King”.
“The Kid Who Would Be King” stars Louis Ashbourne Serkis, the son of legendary actor Andy Serkis, as Alex Elliot, a bullied boy who lives alone with his mother and often looks after his equally bullied friend Bedders (Dean Chaumoo). One night while running away from bullies Lance (Tom Taylor) and Kaye (Rhianna Doris) Alex comes across a sword embedded in a stone at a construction site. Alex removes the stone and he and Bedders soon discover it is the legendary Excalibur, the famed weapon of King Arthur. The pair are approached by the wizard Merlin, played by Angus Imrie as a young man and Patrick Stewart in his true form, who reveals that in four days’ time a solar eclipse will allow King Arthur’s half sister Morgana (Rebecca Ferguson) to rise and seek dominance of the world as well as to claim Excalibur. Alex and Bedders are joined by Lance and Kaye in journeying to take on Morgana and save the world while coming to grips with demons both literal and figurative as they accept their new destinies as modern knights of the round table.
“The Kid Who Would Be King” sports a very young cast with a few big names supporting the fledgling stars. The young leads hold their own with Louis Ashbourne Serkis taking after his famous father by serving as a powerful leading man on screen. Serkis plays Alex Elliot, this version’s stand-in for King Arthur, who is a jaded young boy without a father trying to fight a seemingly endless battle with the evil around him. Serkis is joined by Dean Chaumoo as Alex’s best friend Bedders, the token “obnoxious chatterbox” of the film, while Tom Taylor plays Lance, a bully and stand-in for Lancelot, and Rhianna Doris plays Lance’s partner in crime Kaye. What I found interesting is that these characters each subscribe to youth adventure stereotypes and yet they all feel unique in their own ways. The performers feel invested and seem to be having a good time giving us mature if still child-friendly heroes with a lot to learn and bravery to spare. Each of them could provide a neat role model for kids watching this movie as they’re each forced to come to grips with the flaws that hold them back. Seeing bullies unite with their victims is also a nice touch with the actors showing this evolution as one filled with conflict and stress rather than a sudden turnaround. These are young heroes who need to evolve and thankfully we see a lot of that on screen making them easy to cheer for in their plight.
The more experienced actors help add some needed star power to the project with Patrick Stewart portraying the elder version of Merlin in the most entertaining role of the movie. Stewart is joined by Angus Imrie in playing two different versions of the famous wizard and while Imrie does well with the character and even gets more screen time that Stewart, it’s the more experienced actor that shines in the role as a wise old figure and a comical conscience of sorts for our heroes. While he doesn’t stand out as much as other movie mentors do Stewart and Imrie’s Merlin is a fine take on a legendary character that reminds us of the charm that makes the wizard such an important part of the long-running legend. In the villain role we have another experienced actor, or in this case actress, Rebecca Ferguson as Morgana who isn’t going to make any “best villains of all time” lists, but she’s still a neat antagonist ripped right out of Arthurian lore. Ferguson gives us a charming, but threatening evil being hungry for power with enough complexity to stand out without being so overly written. The young target audience can understand her motives or personality while the older audience can see her as a legitimate threat. In some ways we are even led to believe her struggle is justified as she feels she is the rightful heir of Excalibur, but because her intentions are completely evil we have to root against her. Ferguson’s natural charm helps make this a worthy villain for our heroes to have to vanquish and one who is clearly smarter and more capable than she appears.
While it may be a redundant source material to draw from “The Kid Who Would be King” deserves credit for offering a fresh and, honestly fun modern take on the legend of King Arthur and his knights. I’m actually a little surprised we didn’t see this kind of take on the material earlier. As I was watching it felt that this could have made for a fun television show because there’s a lot of potential hidden in the concept. But this is more than just a fantasy epic. “The Kid Who Would Be King” is written in a way that it incorporates some delightful and timely themes that its target audience can learn from rather than simply enjoying the escapism of the experience. The film explores the values of a hero and the significance of defeating one’s own inner demons in order to embrace the bravery inside. The characters are put in positions that force them to face some pretty harsh realities including loss, loneliness, respect and loyalty but it never goes so far as to reach schmaltzy territory. The main conflict also touches on the divisions within our world and how this only feeds the forces of evil using the heroes as symbols of how even a young person can make a difference in the simplest ways. It’s a nice balance of social subtext and fantasy-driven fun that justifies the movie’s existence as an inspired modernized take on a legend we all know and love for a young generation that desperately needs to hear what this picture has to say.
But, with that said “The Kid Who Would Be King” still felt a little underwhelming for me. It was a lot of fun and I’ll admit it brought back memories of the action fantasy films I loved in the 90s, but as inspired as the concept and characters feels the action feels terribly underwritten. I get what the filmmakers were going for, but not once did it feel like the stakes were high enough for me to be concerned about the characters, even for a kid’s film. Much of the action is formulaic including a house of traps set by the heroes and the characters being forced into confrontations clearly meant to prepare them for the much larger scale final fight ahead. When that showdown did take place, I found myself saying “all that buildup and that’s it?”. Now I’m also not a young kid so it’s likely I’m expecting much more out of these conflicts than I should, but I’ve seen epic showdowns in kid-friendly movies before and there have been plenty that are much more epic and have much higher stakes than what we get in this movie. That’s not even noting that the CGI and Morgana’s flaming demon henchmen didn’t exactly impress either although Morgana herself and her monster form are pretty cool. I guess it depends on what you’re looking for, but I didn’t find the finale to be all that exhilarating or exciting. It was what it had to be, a CGI filled monster battle that tests everything the characters have learned throughout the movie, but I expected a lot more from a story about modern-day knights and magical monsters from the underworld.
“The Kid Who Would Be King” does a lot of things right and to its credit it’s one of the better films inspired by the legend of King Arthur. Where others barely try to stick to the legend or try too hard to take the story in a new direction, this movie finds a nice balance between acknowledging Arthurian lore and charging its own path through the creation of fleshed out and fun young heroes and an adventure that will no doubt satisfy those looking for something a little more inspired that previous takes on the source material. I’ll even say it serves as a fun introduction to young viewers as to what King Arthur’s stories are all about while also providing important life lessons of heroism and personal evolution. While the special effects aren’t that impressive and the actual battles aren’t near as fun as they could have been, “The Kid Who Would Be King” still manages to be a neat adventure that surpasses expectations and proves there may still in fact be some potential left in the over-used stories of King Arthur and his legendary knights.