Director: Joe Cornish
Cast: Louis Ashbourne Serkis, Dean Chaumoo, Tom Taylor, Rhianna Dorris, Angus Imrie, Patrick Stewart, Rebecca Ferguson
Running time: 120 minutes
It’s likely that while preparing to make The Kid Who Would Be King – cinema’s latest reshuffling of the classic Arthurian pack – writer/director Joe Cornish will have asked himself the following questions:
What is your name?
What is your quest?
What are you going to do to ensure this version isn’t just another tossed into the deep, dark dungeon of unremarkable reworkings?
And on the evidence of the finished product, he’s answered all three with assured confidence.
Coming as Cornish’s sophomore directorial feature after his 2011 sci-fi-meets-Kidulthood genre mash-up Attack The Block, The Kid Who Would Be King is almost exactly what you’d hoped it to be. A fun, funny, fantastical foray set against the backdrop of a Generation Z Britain, charm and wit slice through Cornish’s kinetic adventure like a sword through butter. But, beneath the sweet, warm exterior there lies a heart of purity beating away at the core.
Louis Ashbourne Serkis – son of Andy – plays the eponymous royalty, Alex. But, as an unassuming 12-year old Londoner struggling to evade a couple of older school bullies, he’s a hero far removed from the strapping sword-wielding knights of round table legend. That is until one night he pulls the mythical blade Excalibur from the stone – or here, a concrete block located at a construction site. From there, Alex, and his band of aptly named comrades – Kaye, Lance and best bud Bedders – as well as peculiar new-kid-on-the-block ‘Mertin’ must substitute algebra, biology and PE for a highly-interactive lesson in preventing the return of an ancient evil sorceress that will take them cross-country (quite literally) in a bid to stop a world-ending apocalypse.
Jazzing up the classic legends of old with a modern-day twist is hardly a novel move – and one that’s had its fair share of mark-missing. But Cornish bombards his Arthurian story with such joyous, barnstorming contemporary nods that jokes about ancient magic and age-old (or should that be old-age) Sorcerers transition seamlessly into ones about Mario Kart and fried chicken. It’s inventive, energetic stuff that rarely feels overbearing and almost always strikes the bullseye.
But, much like John Boyega-led galactical battle for a London tower block eight years ago, The Kid Who Would Be King comes from a realm grounded firmly in realism. Cornish understands that the toughest journey of them all is the one from child to adult. As such, the underlying struggles faced by Alex and his followers – aside from defeating horse-mounted twilight demons, that is – derive from very real issues concerning family, friendships, responsibility and, most importantly, how to be a good person. Never overbaked, The Kid Who Would Be King hits us with messages that not even the thickest chainmail could repel.
Each of the film’s young central quartet bring something different to the table. Serkis is a great fit for the righteous, optimistic lead. An endearing protagonist who, channelling his own Goonies-never-say-die-attitude (a film whose own driving force was a young, wide-eyed Sean Astin, ironically), embodies the film’s positive sentiment with both charm and sincerity. Dean Chaumoo occupies the role of clumsy, but equally loveable sidekick admirably, while Dorris and Taylor are given much weightier arcs than their initial one-note bully caricatures might suggest.
As for the more established cast, Patrick Stewart’s screen time is limited to little more than a handful of fleeting cameo appearances, while Rebecca Ferguson is suitably sinister as the villainous, if slightly generic, Morgana – having a blast as the hissing, serpentine enemy of Camelot.
Of all the on-screen talent on offer, however, it is Angus Imrie’s Benjamin Button-style teenage Merlin who really steals the show. Eccentric yet instantly likeable, Imrie brings a refreshingly youthful, playful take on the celebrated spell-conjurer who, in the world of Wiztagram, would surely have a follower count to rival that of a certain Harry Potter.
But, it is behind the camera where the true magic takes place. Cornish weaves his infectiously good-natured spell from the get-go and, despite a wobbly mid-section, delivers a rousing, innovative finale that will not only bring the house down in beaming smiles, but also a new-found love for old school gym equipment.
With The Kid Who Would Be King, Cornish rustles up a magical, whimsical tale that unites wonderfully with its relatable undertones. Up there with the legends of Arthurian cinematic reimagining – minus the coconut shells – there is hardly a chink in this here armour.