Past the Popcorn provides South King Media with exclusive reviews of Theatrical and Home Video entertainment. We aim to dig just a little deeper than the surface of what we watch.
In 2011, Joe Cornish directed a movie called Attack the Block, about a group of teens who must defend their corner of London from an alien invasion. The movie was an interesting twist on the genre, introduced the world to John Boyega, and got everyone excited about what Cornish would direct next. It took eight years, but now Cornish is back with The Kid Who Would Be King, which again puts the fate of the world in the hands of kids in a modern-day twist on the Arthurian legend.
Alex is the son of a single mother who, along with his friend Bedders, is constantly being bullied at school. One day, while fleeing his pursuers, Alex stumbles into a construction site where he finds a slab of stone with an actual sword stuck in it. Thinking little of it, he pulls the sword from the stone and returns home. He certainly is not expecting that it would actually be Excalibur, the legendary sword of the Arthurian tales he has grown up reading.
The next day, there is a strange new kid at school who calls himself “Merton.” Alex tells Bedders that they should stay away from him because there is finally someone at the school that is more bully-worthy than them, but Merton won’t leave them alone. He eventually reveals himself to be the wizard Merlin and announces that the evil witch Morgana will plunge the world back into the dark ages unless Alex, the once and future king, can stop him. Soon Alex, Bedders, and—ironically—their two bullies Lance and Kaye, are trekking across the English countryside searching for Alex’s father, whom he is sure knows the hidden location of Morgana’s underworld kingdom.
The Kid Who Would Be King is the kind of movie they do not make very often these days. It is a kids’ movie about kids, but it does not speak to them like they are kids. It does not talk down to them. The movie has some genuinely adult messages about the current state of the world, but it addresses them in a fun and entertaining way that kids could easily identify with. There is also a strong message about us needing to put aside our differences with our enemies and fight side by side with them if we are to overcome evil, something that reads easily thanks to the bully/bullied dynamic.
The movie also doesn’t dilute its stakes or frightening imagery just because kids are watching. Like Walt Disney and Steven Spielberg before him, Cornish knows that just because his movie is about kids and for kids, that does not mean he has to present all the movie’s horrors in a preschool friendly way. The images of Morgana and her underworld army can be truly terrifying at times in this movie, which only increases the stakes of the film, and has us on the edge of our seat, even while we are pretty confident that the movie is not going to end with these kids being brutally defeated.
Much like Attack the Block, The Kid Who Would Be King is populated with a charming younger cast that really makes the movie work. Alex is played by Louis Ashbourne Serkis, son of actors Lorraine Ashbourne and Andy Serkis, the latter of Lord of the Rings and Black Panther fame. He carries the film well and we completely buy his rise from bullied student to the leader of the resistance. Among the rest of the cast, the standout is Angus Imrie as the young Merlin. He is hilarious as an aged medieval sorcerer forced into disguise as a modern-day teenager. It is a great take on the classic character, which is also played in adult form by a frazzled Sir Patrick Stewart.
Much like its characterization of Merlin, The Kid Who Would Be King may attempt to disguise itself as a kids’ movie, but it cannot hide the fact that it is an exciting, funny, and sometimes frightening adventure story that is sure to be enjoyed by all ages. With this impressive of a track record, let’s hope it doesn’t take another eight years for Joe Cornish to dazzle us with another fun adventure story.
The Kid Who Would Be King opens today at the AMC Southcenter 16, the AMC Kent Station 14, the Century Federal Way, and Regal’s Stadium Landing 14 in Renton.