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The Kid Who Would Be King Movie Review

The Kid Who Would Be King (2019) movie poster The Kid Who Would Be King

Theatrical Release: January 25, 2019 / Running Time: 120 Minutes / Rating: PG

Writer/Director: Joe Cornish

Cast: Louis Ashbourne Serkis (Alex), Denise Gough (Mary), Dean Chaumoo (Bedders), Tom Taylor (Lance), Rhianna Dorris (Kaye), Nathan Stewart-Jarrett (Mr. Kepler), Noma Dumezweni (Mrs. Lee), Rebecca Ferguson (Morgana), Mark Bonnar (Mr. Jeffreys), Patrick Stewart (Adult Merlin)


There are not a lot of British movies given super saturated releases in more than 3,000 North American theaters. The Kid Who Would Be King is one of them, which raises the question "Why?" that I simply cannot answer. Kid is the latest in a long line of films taking their cues from Arthurian legend.
It hasn't even been two years since Guy Ritchie's King Arthur: Legend of the Sword bombed to icy reviews. Written and directed by Joe Cornish (Attack the Block), Kid takes a contemporary, child-oriented approach to the old folklore, which perhaps makes it more ripe for comparison to Disney's A Kid in King Arthur's Court, if anyone remembered that movie a quarter-century later.

In Cornish's version, the titular kid is Alex (Louis Ashbourne Serkis, obviously the son of motion capture legend Andy), a bullied preteen who happens upon Excalibur while wandering around a construction site and pulls it out of the fabled stone. Per legend, this means Alex is a true king, which you wouldn't expect given his social status at school. Alex's best friend Bedders (Dean Chaumoo), an even bigger target for bullies, joins him on a quest, as do their two primary tormentors, the slightly older and taller Lance (Tom Taylor) and Kaye (Rhianna Doris).

The two bullies (Rhianna Doris, Tom Taylor) and their targets (Dean Chaumoo and Louis Ashbourne Serkis) are poorly defined in the contemporary Arthurian adventure "The Kid Who Would Be King."

This juvenile adventure is very British and that is the extent of its charm. The cast is endearing, largely on the basis of their accents and slightly different way of life. If you are British and young, you're presumably the target audience, though I suspect many in that demographic may be underwhelmed, a lack of cultural differences rendering this foolish and on the nose.

Cornish does a pretty terrible job of developing his characters. Alex misses his father, who has been absent from his life since he was very young. Believing it integral to this quest, he goes off searching for Dad. Aiding him on this adventure is a gangly new transfer student named Merton (Angus Imrie), who is really Merlin. This teenaged wizard (who is really elderly, but aging backwards?) is the only one supplying any fun to the proceedings, as he sneezes himself into an owl and sometimes Patrick Stewart (his real form) while donning a Led Zeppelin t-shirt. To preserve his less conspicuous Benjamin Button-esque self, Merlin needs to subsist upon beetle blood, ground bone, and beaver urine, three things he gets from a fried chicken joint where he's gotten a job.

Wit like that should be in abundance here, but instead Kid repeatedly opts for visual effects. True, visual effects are a part of most of today's biggest blockbusters, but people don't like the movies simply because they're slinging CGI. Cornish should be aware of this, having contributed to the screenplays of Marvel's Ant-Man and Steven Spielberg's The Adventures of Tintin. He displays that awareness by cramming in references to popular fare including Harry Potter, Star Wars, and even Percy Jackson ("Percy Jockstrap"). Alas, all such references do is make us realize how much more enjoyable and exciting those fantastic adventures are.

Awakening and pursuing our poorly-defined young heroes is Morgana (a thankless Rebecca Ferguson), who seems to exist only to up the already excessive visual effects count.

In his real elderly form, Merlin is played by Patrick Stewart, seen here embracing our protagonist (Louis Ashbourne Serkis).

For having worked with the great Edgar Wright on both sides of the camera, Cornish is puzzlingly unable to put together a good gag. Merlin's snap-clap-shuffle spells provide some visual interest, but they wear out their welcome by about their third of far too many applications.
Our inevitable big action climax sees the students at the kids' school being armored to do battle with the otherworldly evil forces in play. By then, you're probably all ready for the movie to wrap up, its two-hour runtime feeling even longer.

I realize that a family film about a bullied kid finding his voice and becoming a hero is not something you want to summon harsh criticism for. But as someone who regularly celebrates PG and G-rated films as some of the best around, the defense "it's just a bit of fun for children" does not sit well with me. There are too many great family films -- most of them, animated -- that do not dumb down their ideas and pander to young, forgiving viewers. As such, I cannot join the majority of critics who are gifting this mild praise. The bar has been set too high -- consider the two Paddington movies the UK gave us in recent Januarys past -- to condone such cheesy, uninspired, unengaging, and nearly insufferable storytelling.

Related Reviews:
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The Sword in the Stone King Arthur: Legend of the Sword King Arthur (2004) Unidentified Flying Oddball
Written by Joe Cornish: Ant-Man The Adventures of Tintin
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief

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Reviewed January 25, 2019.

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