The Kid Who Would Be King and all the images you see in this review are owned by 20th Century Fox
Directed by Joe Cornish
What, a kid’s movie in January? Man… I don’t want to waste my time watching this, especially after seeing Into the Spider-Verse! Is any movie gonna be as good as that one? No? Then why even bother! Wait a minute… this is directed by Joe Cornish? As in… THE Joe Cornish? As in Attack the Block Joe Cornish!? Well why didn’t you lead with, imaginary person I’m pretending to have a conversation with! Yes, after a rather long hiatus between Attack the Block and this one where he stepped back to be a writer instead of director, he’s finally back with his second film after such an extraordinary first feature! Seriously, if you haven’t seen Attack the Block then stop reading this review and go see it now! Now, I tell you!! You want to know why John Boyega is in Star Wars!? GO WATCH THAT MOVIE!! Anyway, does the triumphant return of Joe Cornish mean we have yet another masterpiece on our hands, or did he stay away from the director’s chair this long for a good reason? Let’s find out!!
In what I can only assume is a Post-Brexit London, Alexander Elliot (Louis Ashbourne Serkis) is your run of the mill kid who gets bullied mercilessly at school but has a funny best friend named Bedders (Dean Chaumoo) whose got his back when he needs it. One day he stands up for his buddy when he’s getting taunted by older kids Lance and Kaye (Tom Taylor and Rhianna Doris) who end up chasing him down to a construction site which JUST SO HAPPENS to be empty and there JUST SO HAPPENS to the sword Excalibur sticking out of the ground. You’d think someone would have excavated it, but instead they cleared all the dirt around the sword and left it sitting there in case someone felt the urge to pull it out. This is good news for Alex who DOES have such an urge and voila! He pulls it out and all heck starts to break loose! Well not at FIRST, but the sword leaving its resting place has awakened the dark sorceress Morgana (Rebecca Ferguson who’s… in the center of the Earth I think, and it calls out to the wizard Merlin (Angus Imrie and Patrick Stewart) who heads back to London post haste to meet the new king! After some shenanigans and a fight with a giant monster that shows up at his house, Alex learns that he is in fact the next king of… Well I GUESS England (or maybe the whole UK now?) and must gather some knights to finally stab Morgana to death once and for all! Through even MORE shenanigans, he manages to enlist the help of the bullies to join him as his fellow knights along with Bedders, and so they must now find a pathway to the center of the Earth! So where do they start? Um… well, Alex’s father gave him a book on Arthurian lore when he was a kid, so maybe they should visit him on the other side of the country since he seems to have known about Alex’s King-ness well before anyone else! As good a place to start as any I guess! Will Alex and his crew find where Morgana is hiding and stop her before she can take over the world? What challenges will they be forced to face along the way, and is Alex ready for such a huge responsibility at such a young age? Can we maybe get this movie, but with the cast of Attack the Block instead? I mean I’m sure John Boyega costs a lot more now, but it’d at least make a lot more sense to me!
I hate to say it considering who’s behind the camera, but this movie is just bad. Maybe not AGGRESSIVELY bad and it still might be somewhat better than the last King Arthur movie I saw, but where Guy Ritchie’s interpretation was ludicrously and disastrously ambitious, this feels like the boiler plate knock offs of Harry Potter we were getting a decade ago and possibly one that should have been straight to television which is that much more surprising when you remember that Joe Cornish’s last directorial effort was the utterly phenomenal Attack the Block. This right here is a SERIOUS case of the Sophomore Slump and hopefully Joe Cornish can get back to what worked about his debut feature instead of whatever nonsense he was trying to accomplish with this one. Shoot, we’ve also got Jordan Peele’s second movie this year too, don’t we? Sure, the second movie curse doesn’t happen to EVERYBODY, but maybe we should prepare ourselves just in case; something I certainly hadn’t done before I went to see THIS movie!
The biggest problem for me is that the whole thing felt just too generic. There’s no… TEXTURE to the lore in this. There’s no depth to what we’re being told or any unique spin on the material. It feels like an extended toy commercial, like when they had those kids playing the Avengers to advertise for Target. Because the movie is set in modern times and we aren’t dealing with a Secret World scenario like in Harry Potter and lots of other YA fiction, the film NEEDS that extra layer of depth, nuance, and originality in order for it to not feel like a contrivance. I mean sure, I ALWAYS kind of questioned how a magic spell in Harry Potter would fair against bombs and assault rifles, but the fact that the characters in this movie are wielding broad swords in this day and age never not feels like the most circuitous way to solve their problem. They’re not even MAGIC broadswords that grant the wielder special abilities or advanced skills, and even Excalibur only seems to have the ability to knight people as well as glow when enemies are nearby. They might as well be lugging around baseball bats wrapped in barbwire which frankly might be a MORE effective killing tool than these rusty thousand year old hunks of metal. Well I guess the fact that they’re still sharp after all this time is what makes them magic. This is getting too much into minutia though and I don’t want to spend the whole review talking about swords and whatnot. The bigger point is that the movie lacks a sense of character to any of its settings, concepts, and cinematography. Most of the movie takes place in either a giant field or an empty school which isn’t a lot to work with as far as setting up dynamic shots or elaborate set pieces, our quest is rather straightforward but progress is painfully slow (it’s two steps and it takes half the movie to WALK to one of them), and the villains are utterly token, uninspired, and don’t pose the slightest threat. You could look at Harry Potter as an example of how to organically build a fantasy world, but let’s not even go that far. How about Attack the Block which had a fraction of this movie’s budget and yet ten times as much personality and character to it? Was it the R-rating that allowed Joe Cornish to make that world as memorable as it was and the PG-rating here was too restrictive for him? I’m not sure, but whatever the reason I just could not get invested in this world and these characters like I can do with other YA movies and certainly with Joe Cornish’s other film.
The other problem with the movie is that its story is just kind of awkwardly put together; both in terms of its progression as well as its tone. I didn’t find any of the kids particularly likable which I don’t want to put on the actors themselves, but the material here is not all that inspiring. Even Angus Imrie who has the big flashy role as the WACKY Merlin who sometimes turns into Patrick Stewart (I wish I had that power) comes off as a distraction more than anything else. It’s a bit like Gandalf in The Hobbit where he get the ball rolling and then comes and goes as he pleases so maybe some people will find his shtick endearing, but he’s certainly no Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart only comes in about four times in very short bursts so even he can’t do much here. Then again, what’s there to do? The entire quest is just walking from one place to another with no interesting stops, colorful characters, or even particularly tough challenges along the way! They get attacked by trees, they walk in a lake, and they fight the same useless fire skeletons on three separate occasions. I mean at least the Dwarves and Bilbo fought spiders, met elves, and even found a dragon! Being boring though, while disappointing, is not the most surprising thing about this. No, what’s REALLY surprising here is the politics of the movie which are ridiculously anachronistic. Why the heck is a movie in 2019 so pro-monarchy!? I mean sure, it EVENTUALLY doesn’t condone the idea of royal bloodlines, but the idea that there’s a SUPER SPECIAL SOMEONE out there who is destined to be a leader feels rather galling; especially when for some reason the movie seems to take place in a world halfway between what it is now and the London from Children of Men. The film keeps reminding us that the world is in TERRIBLE shape with plenty of shots of closing storefronts and a few homeless people surviving on the streets as well as a school system that seems to condone bullying because it toughens kids up for this harsh and awful world. Look, I know that Brexit is not the BEST example of the democratic system working as intended, but the answer isn’t to find some dude with an inflated ego to be your next king! I mean the movie DOES know what a king is, right!? Should the people go back to be serfs and peasants because they APPARENTLY have no idea what the heck they should be doing without the wisdom of their glorious leader!? The movie doesn’t go full Gabriel Over the White House or Empress Theresa on us, but it’s such a weirdly specific kind of message to put in a movie that didn’t need to be as… specific as it was. Compare this to A Wrinkle in Time where Meg’s journey is no less grand in its scope (both movies are about stopping some sort of evil that is a metaphor for the crappy state the world is in right now) and both films have a character that is… let’s say DESTINED to fix the problem. Meg however wasn’t destined to be a QUEEN though. Her role was not to rule or control even if she was ultimately a “special” person within the context of the universe. She was not given a title that carries with it a legacy of cruelty and suppression with it. In terms of a fantasy, sure we LOVE to imagine knights and kings as heroic figures fighting for glory and honor, but it’s hard to THINK of it in those terms when the movie is making modern day parallels to political instability!
Now let’s pump the brakes a bit here and try to say something nice because I’m trying not to be as overly negative as I’ve been in the past and I want to give this movie a fair shake. I’d say that while everything is just kinda boring and empty throughout the movie, it’s not POORLY shot. It doesn’t have a ridiculously high budget so they work within their means, but its scale seems to be for something that should have a lot more cash to throw around. Personally I think it could have used a few labyrinth puppets to spice things up along the way, like if they had met a troll or an elf that had some sort of magic spell that will help them in their journey but they have to help him with like a… dance competition or something. I don’t know, but for what IS there, it’s shot well enough and there are some nice landscapes throughout. I wasn’t a fan of most of the kids, but I did like the older two a little bit more than New Arthur and The Comic Relief. They feel a bit more REAL I guess and it’s a bit hard to take New Arthur seriously when he looks like he can barely even lift the sword; let alone be a charismatic enough speaker to sway others to his cause. That said, Louis Ashbourne Serkis does get at least ONE really great scene in the movie when we find out what happened to his father. I certainly called the twist a mile away, but it still managed to be effective and felt believable in this scenario. As I said, it’s hard to take him seriously as THE HERO OF ALL MAN which makes his role an uphill battle, but this was something that was certainly let him show some real talent in an otherwise unspectacular movie.
I GUESS kids will like it, but there are a lot of better movies out there that they could be watching instead of this; especially movies that this seems to be trying so hard to be a knock off of like Harry Potter and A Wrinkle in Time. Then again, I’m a grumpy old dude watching a movie aimed at seven year olds, so you should probably take my opinion with a grain of salt; especially considering just how much I loved Attack the Block. I guess there’s always some degree of watering down when you go from an R to a PG, but I have enjoyed movies aimed at kids before (*cough* Enter the Spider-Verse *cough*) and this for darn sure isn’t up to the level of those. I’d say skip it entirely, but if you are a Joe Cornish fan and want to see how his return to the director’s chair turned out, well at least wait until you can rent it for a few bucks instead of getting out of the house to see it. At least when you’re at home you can switch back to Attack the Block when the kids start walking in yet another giant field or extolling the virtues of the Aristocracy!