One night, while running away from bullies, young Alex Elliot stumbles into a construction yard. There, he finds a sword lodged in a stone, and being a curious 12-year-old, decides to pull it out. Upon doing so, he discovers some Latin written on the hilt, which, when entered into Google Translate, reads “Sword of Arthur.” Alex is skeptical at first, thinking it impossible for this to be the real Excalibur, but when demonic warriors try to kill him, and an eccentric young man, claiming to be Merlin, tells him that he must assemble a group of knights to stop the evil Morgan Le Fay, or else the world will end, he starts to reconsider.
You might be shocked to hear this, but The Kid Who Would Be King was actually one of my most anticipated films of this year. The trailers looked funny, I saw that Joe Cornish, of Attack The Block fame, directed it, and I’ve always had a soft spot for both Arthurian lore, and movies about kids going on adventures. So when I sat down in the theater tonight, I was pumped. I was ready to be amazed. And when the credits finally rolled, I found myself, if not disappointed, then slightly let down. Just to be clear, this is not a bad film. It moves very quickly, there are some great action scenes, like one where the kids are fighting anthropomorphic trees, the effects are impressive, and there’s some good humor in here as well, particularly with Merlin’s character. Speaking of which, both actors who play him, Angus Imrie portrays the younger Merlin, while Sir Patrick Stewart appears as the wizard’s true form, are fantastic. They’re easily the best actors in the movie, and you can tell when you watch them that they’re both relishing this role. There’s also some nice messages about respecting everyone, valuing the ones you love, and the right to rule coming, not from wealth or bloodlines, but from compassion, and intelligence. A nice motif that they make frequent reference to is King Arthur’s Round Table, which was designed that way so that everyone would feel equal. If you have kids, or are just in the mood for some simple, childlike fun, definitely give this a look. It is worth your time.
That being said, the movie isn’t perfect. It’s got way too much exposition, for one thing. The film opens with an animated flashback, explaining what King Arthur, Excalibur, and Morgan Le Fay are, and it goes on for a long time. Like, I started to tap my foot when it didn’t end, long. Everyone knows about King Arthur, so none of this back-story is necessary. And yet, there are several more times throughout the film where characters will explain Arthurian lore to us, even repeating details that were already shared. It got to the point where none of the characters really felt like people, and they just came off as fountains of exposition. Speaking of the characters, on top of not having clear personalities, the actors who play them aren’t the best. Louis Ashbourne Serkis and Dean Chaumoo play Alex and his best friend Bedders, respectively, and neither of them feels natural. They don’t show a huge range of emotion, and Chaumoo, in particular, says everything in the same breathy manner, no matter what situation he’s in. And while I don’t want to pick on child actors, since I know, from personal experience, how hard it is to act when you’re a kid, these are the film’s two leads. They should be better than this. All in all, though, I do think that this flick is a worthy addition to the family adventure canon. It’s got too much exposition, the characters don’t have fully fleshed out personalities, and the two main leads aren’t the best, but the quick pace, fun action, good messages and sly humor from Merlin make it a worthwhile watch. Make of this what you will.