Monday, January 14, 2019

The Kid Who Would Be King

Far more successful than 2017's dreary King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, there may be a lesson for Hollywood to adapt a lighter touch when embracing the legend of King Arthur. The Kid Who Would Be King is a family movie that kids are likely to enjoy more than adults, but what surprised me was how smart the film turned out to be and how earnest its themes which will help adults get onboard as well.

After a brief recap of the Arthur legend, the film opens in modern day with a slightly pudgy Alex (Louis Ashbourne Serkis) attempting to save his best friend Bedders (Dean Chaumoo) from a pair of older bullies (Tom Taylor and Rhianna Dorris). While running away from the bullies, Alex stumbles on a sword in a stone which he removes allowing the legend to begin.

Initially discounting what he sees, Alex is forced to believe by the sudden appearance of Merlin (played interchangeably by Patrick Stewart and Angus Imrie) and undead riders from the underworld attempting to retake the sword and deliver it to the evil sorceress Morgana (Rebecca Ferguson), who after being imprisoned for centuries is about to break free.

The script by writer/director Joe Cornish sets up specific rules which leave the heavily lifting and tough decisions to Alex and his friends. One of these is Merlin's inability to help Arthur at night, forcing the boy and his friends to deal with the demons on their own. When the demons appear at night only Alex, and those who has has knighted, can see them as everyone else disappears during the attacks and the world is set right again after their defeat. This not only makes it hard for Alex to explain what is going on to adults, but also forces the would-be king to look for allies. Another is the importance of the code of chivalry and purity of heart to the quest (one of the reasons a child was chosen by Excalibur rather than adults corrupted by today's world). To help him decipher his path, Alex has a storybook of Arthur legends and Merlin, but the choices themselves are left to the 12 year-old boy which include a first step in following Arthur's example and choosing to embrace two enemies for his knights.

Along the way Cornish delivers some deft touches and humorous moments (one of my favorites being how Merlin puts together a reviving potion using a local fried chicken franchise). While energetic, the film gets a little too reliant on CGI in its epic final battle with Morgana, which also glosses over the potential harm to Alex's army, but that's a minor compliant against an otherwise surprisingly smart and enjoyable film. At the end, Cornish ties together the themes of chivalry and bravery into the modern world, without being preachy the film leaves its younger audience with a message about how to deal with the world set in front of them and live an honorable and purposeful life.

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