Kid Who Would be King, TheReviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 01/29/19 09:38:14
(Worth A Look)
There's a fascinating urgency in this film's opening scenes that you don't often see in family movies - most go for an optimistic timelessness even when presenting their young heroes with a dire threat, rather than being grounded in the present anxiety. It doesn't permeate the movie, which is for the best, but the fact that it's there and comes and goes as needed certainly marks this as a bit better than a lot of what gets made for kids.It opens with an animated retelling of the King Arthur legend before introducing Alexander (Louis Ashbourne Serkis), who is probably second-lowest on the totem pole in his middle school but, to his credit, tends to stick up for Bedders (Dean Chaumoo), the one guy below him and his best friend, rather than passing any bullying he receives along. That mostly comes from Lance (Tom Taylor) and Kaye (Rhianna Dorris), and it's them chasing him after detention that causes him to stumble upon an actual sword in a stone in the middle of London. He is able to draw it, not quite realizing what he's stumbled upon, at least not until the undead start chasing him at nightfall and a weird older kid calling himself "Merton" (Angus Imrie) shows up at school, warning that Morgana (Rebecca Ferguson) is close to returning to Earth - a solar eclipse in four days time is just the thing to make it happen - which sends the four kids on a quest to learn how to combat her evil and learn why the sword chose him.
In case the name doesn't give the game away, The Kid Who Would Be King is aimed squarely at the young members of the audience, not sneaking jokes for the adults in, making its points and point of view very clear, and having definite lines in terms of intensity that it will approach but not cross. It is not looking for the grown-ups to think it's clever, even though it is - though he'll spend some time pointing out obvious deliberate parallels with the classic Arthurian myths, it also becomes very clear by the end that he knows the perils of offering up a chosen-one narrative in this day, and that he knows kids Alexander's age deserve a more honest narrative than one that blames the shaky state of their home on some supernatural cause that can be vanquished with the proper sword (it's a different thing to say that such instability opens the door for other dangerous threats). He navigates the fuzzy border between the overt fantasy in this movie and the sort kids construct that must be punctured carefully with grace even as adult viewers might be inclined to ignore that because the kids are talking about a round kitchen table.
On top of all that, it has a fairly simple quest and does everything to achieve that end well. Cornish plays every scene out at just the right place to make them brisk but also clear, giving the kids good jokes and knowing when to use the adults in their lives to solve problems and when to make them the sort of oblivious that invites resignation. And while he's creating much less gleefully violent action scenes than in Attack the Block, he shows the same instinctive knowledge of how much using space well and putting in small details helps, from how the sinister caverns that serve as Morgana's prison also create a way for her to be in every shadow to how Alexander and Bedders climb, balance, and otherwise navigate the route between the heroes' houses, or how all the kids at the school are wearing the proper eclipse viewing glasses. Details matter, and every little one helps tell the story just a bit better.
The young cast is nice, too. The main group could be dry, but isn't; Louis Ashbourne Serkis and Dean Chaumoo have just enough space between their different ways of being earnest to make for nice chatter without seeming like the same guy twice. The basic optimism comes through without making the kids look foolish, as does the bullies revealing a better core. Angus Imrie is the really great find as the young Merlin, though, always hitting just the right mix of whimsy and playing the silly bits straight, good enough that you make don't 100% by him being swapped out for Patrick Stewart at times, but you don't disbelieve, either. It's a smart use of the idea that Merlin ages in reverse in that it keeps the focus on the kids and prevents the film from veering off into Alexander finding a new father figure.The film does lose a little steam around the finale; as well as Rebecca Ferguson's Morgana works in the shadows, she winds up more a final boss than a force to be countered. The kids are still more than all right, though, and while the anxiety present at the start of the film is far from gone by the end, there's at least a determination to make things better that both the kids that the movie is made for and the parents taking them should be able to take to heart.
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