Is This the Best King Arthur Adaptation Ever Made? It’s Certainly the Most fun!
DIRECTED BY: JOE CORNISH/2019
While it has been popular to modernize classic stories and set them in the modern age, The Kid Who Would Be King is a film that likes to have its proverbial cake and eat it too. Not only is it a film where King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table find modern day relevance, but it also is a film that leaves the original legend completely intact. While Guy Ritchie sought to make a fun, fresh take on the legendary tale with King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, it ultimately became one of the biggest box office bombs of 2017. While Ritchie was trying to reintroduce the fun, and magical side of Arthur, he was unable to do so despite looking like he was trying really hard. The Kid Who Would Be King’s director, Joe Cornish, however, does bring back the magic and mystical side of Arthur and makes it look effortless. The payoff is that this is a film that is a lot of fun for kids of all ages (except maybe the youngest ones).
The modern take on this classic story centers on Alex (Louis Ashbourne Serkis –Alice Through The Looking Glass), a boy struggling socially at his school, along with his friend Bedders (Dean Chaumoo). They are both targeted for bullying by Lance (Tom Taylor –The Dark Tower) and his sidekick Kaye (Rhianna Dorris-Secret Life of Boys). While running away from these two bullies, Alex falls in a construction site, later discovering a sword stuck in the in the concrete stone. Knowing the story of King Arthur, who as a boy pulled the sword from the stone, he pulls it out too, never believing that it might be the legendary Excalibur.
Alex heads home and eventually strange things begin happening including an undead soldier from the underworld coming after the sword at his house. What Alex doesn’t realize is that this soldier was sent by the evil half-sister of Arthur, Morgana (Rebecca Ferguson –Mission: Impossible-Fallout), who had been cursed to be held captive deep under the earth’s surface until mankind’s heart was no longer pure. This makes the modern day a perfect place and time for her to reemerge. It also coincides with Alex finding the sword, becoming the default king who stands in her way, like Arthur once did. And if Morgana is coming back to use her magical, sorcerer’s ways, then it is also a perfect time for the return of Arthur’s mentor, adviser, magician, and friend, Merlin (the young version of Merlin is played by Angus Imrie; while the older looking Merlin is played by Patrick Stewart –Logan). Merlin is hilarious and wise, as are the two actors who play him.
While all of this plays out just about the way you’d expect it to, The Kid Who Would Be King uses the rather formulaic plot to dig a little deeper into the personal struggle of our young hero. Alex is being raised by his mother, and barely remembers his father. All he has had to hang on to his father’s memory, and his own sense of self, is the book that his father left him which was about King Arthur. The book also contained the touching inscription his father wrote him. While Alex must reluctantly follow the example he learned, from this book, of Arthur uniting his enemies, namely Lance and Kaye, to fight Morgana and her legions of the undead, his quest also becomes one to find out about the father he has never known. It is this story that teaches Alex, and by extension the viewer, the deeper and more noble pursuits in life.
This film truly has a sense of this idea of nobility, chivalry, honor, and truth….especially when things are at their worst and the pressure to give in is at its greatest. These were central to King Arthur’s legend, and they find themselves to be badly needed, and sorely lacking, in society today. Yet, The Kid Who Would Be King is not naive. It doesn’t hold out these virtues while casting a blind eye to the world we live in. Rather, it holds these virtues out as worthy pursuits for each of us, exactly because of how the world is today, and how virtues such as these are the very things that can help us make things better.
While a “family film”, The Kid Who Would Be King might not be kid friendly for every kid. Especially if the scary nature of these demons of the underworld, who rise out of the ground to pursue and fight our heroes, are too much for a particular child. Things can get a little dark at times, but for the most part, kids 10 and up will have no problems with some of the visuals and the like. Bullying figures prominently in the film, but so do resolutions.
While the story is simple, and at times predictable, it in no ways hinders the audience from experiencing the fun, and uplifting ride that is The Kid Who Would Be King. It is simply a fun adventure for both young and old alike. It also captures the spirit of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table more than any recent adaptation. It definitely provides a good time for all.