When I was a kid I was heavy in to the mythology of Arthurian lore. Everything about King Arthur and the knights of Camelot drew my immediate attention and fascination. I spent a great three years learning everything that I could about that era. As a kid if I’d have seen Joe Cornish’s “The Kid Who Would Be King,” I’d have left the theater with a humongous smile on my face and anxious to learn a lot more that was available in the libraries. Joe Cornish has a particular love for making heroes out of underdogs and the least suspecting people you’d come across, and he carries that trademark in to his newest film.
Set in modern day England, Alex is a young school boy who spends his days living in a fantasy world and thinking back on a father who left him as a child that he wishes he knew. When he stumbles upon the mythical Excalibur set in the stone, he is able to lift it out without hesitation. He is then confronted by the ancient wizard Merlin who warns him that the evil Morgana is about to rise from her underground prison and is destined to take over the world and rule over England once more. Alex now has to unite his friends and foes, as well as his entire class to stand against Morgana and thwart her menace.
“The Kid Who Would Be King” is a wonderful film suited for just about anyone. I can see just about everyone going in to this movie taking something away from it. For the kids there’s a lot about bullying, friendship, learning to work together, and conjuring inner strength to battle the scary world. For adults, Joe Cornish manages to evoke a lot of the classic eighties adventure films like “The Goonies” and “Monster Squad.” While Cornish aims for a younger audience, there’s a lot of great entertainment and action to be mined here, and Cornish never seems to pander, either. His heroes are clean cut and empathetic and his villains are conniving and devious.
Cornish also invoke a lot of his wild imagination for the bad guys, pitting our young heroes against some truly creepy undead knights, all of whom have every chance to murder them at any given moment. There’s a genuine sense of high stakes within the narrative, making Alex and his friends’ journey to stop Morgana always dangerous and potentially fatal. Director Cornish builds such an intriguing and engaging world and fleshes out some incredibly complex and interesting heroes much in the vein of “Attack the Block.” The road to heroism is never an easy one, and the fight to bring Alex’s ex-bullies Lance and Kaye amounts to a lot of tension and unique drama that always promises to crumble as Morgana advances her plans on the kids.
While Patrick Stewart is a lot of fun and Rebecca Ferguson is a delightfully despicable villainess, the real heart is the genuine and engaging performances from the young cast. Ashbourne Serkis is top notch as young Alex, while Dean Chaumoo, Tom Taylor and Rhianna Doris are quite good as a trio of heroes from vastly different backgrounds united by their mission. Joe Cornish follows up “Attack the Block” is a different and equally entertaining action film that takes a tired movie trope and re-invents it in a creative and bold vision.