Directed by Joe Cornish
Starring Louis Ashbourne Serkis, Rebecca Ferguson, Patrick Stewart
The last time a Joe Cornish film graced screens, via his 2011 debut Attack the Block, inner-city London kids were defending the planet against evil extraterrestrials. Seven-and-a-half years later, the Cornwall native is back with another kids-against-the-apocalypse saga, and you have to wonder if prolonged absence has made the creative edge…duller?
Cornish’s second feature The Kid Who Would Be King is an update on the King Arthur legend, though how modern an update is up for debate. That’s because Cornish seems to be summoning Steven Spielberg during his ‘80s E.T./Goonies heyday, by bringing together a band of underdogs led by bland good-kid Alex (Louis Ashbourne Serkis, son of motion capture pioneer Andy Serkis) to fight against a rising evil. Said evil is King Arthur’s half-sister Morgana (Rebecca Ferguson), banished to the underworld and enchained by subterranean roots, who senses a weakness in the integrity of England and an opportunity to enslave it. After being chased by bullies Lance (Tom Taylor) and Kaye (Rhianna Dorris) to a construction site, Alex pulls a sword wedged deep into a hunk of concrete—which of course turns out to be Excalibur—and is baptized as the new leader to combat Morgana and her dead, fire-and-bone soldiers.
Along for the ride are Alex’s devoted nerd of a best friend Bedders (Dean Chaumoo) and the new incarnation of the wizard Merlin, who appears either as an owl, a gangly beanstalk of a teenager (Angus Imrie), or as an addled old man in a robe and Led Zeppelin tee-shirt (Patrick Stewart). Stewart instantly gives the proceedings heft and, combined with Imrie’s routine of finger snaps, claps and choreographed hand gestures to summon a spell, makes Merlin undoubtedly the coolest character onscreen.
The Kid Who Would Be King is safe, family fun, with the kids’ sharp adolescent edges all sanded down and then buried under a huge dollop of CGI. The problem is, Cornish seems to have imported Spielberg’s outdated ‘80s lingo (Lance and Kaye call themselves the “kings” of their school, which sounded old even when Leonardo DiCaprio called himself a “king of the world”) and none of his visual pizzazz. By the time the climactic battle rolls around—led by kids who never seem to be in danger of getting killed or hurt, while the adults stand around like zombies somewhere—you might be yearning for something fresher and edgier…like, maybe, John Boorman’s Excalibur.