Skip to main content

Ice cream, Cherryade and chicken nuggets, liquidised.

The Kid Who Would Be King
(2019)

(SPOILERS) Joe Cornish generated such goodwill with Attack the Block – admittedly, I wasn’t its greatest fan – that I suspect no one really wanted to admit The Kid Who Would Be King, his belated follow up was a bit of a damp squib. This modern-day Arthurian retelling but with kids in the key protagonist roles may appear to have sufficient reconfigured cachet to appeal, but it’s mostly rather derivative, and that’s without even considering the patchy lead cast.

Because with a kids’ film – and perhaps the box-office kiss of death, this is definitely a kids’ film, rather than family fare – you’re stranded if you don’t have strong leads carrying you through rough patches of over-emoting and heroic junior challenges. Andy Serkis’ son Louis does his best, but he isn’t that lead (Alex), while at least two of his valiant knights (Dean Chaumoo as Bedders and Rhianna Doris as Kaye) also fail to bring much that’s memorable to the material.

On the plus side, Tom Taylor is a believably arrogant toff bully as Lance (with neat use of the legend’s rifts to turn him from aggressor to champion) and, MVP, Angus Imrie, Celia’s son, is an absolute standout as Merlin. He brings exactly the exuberance the whole movie needed – energetic, spirited, funny, slightly madcap – and when he’s onscreen, for the most part, Cornish’s slightly tired vision slots into place. That’s particularly true of the early passages, where Merlin announces himself as a pupil at Alex’s school (“And I am a perfectly normal British school boy”), casts spells on all and sundry, and offers appealingly archaic phrasings. Indeed, I could easily imagine Imrie being cast as Doctor Who in a few years. If there still is a Doctor Who in a few years.

Unfortunately, Cornish also decides to include what, on paper, probably seemed like a good move and financially a no-brainer: having an older Merlin (he ages backwards, nonsensically) turn up periodically. This is clearly designed as a dramatic anchor and showstopper, but entirely serves to undermine Imrie’s presence and the excellent work he is doing. And worse, lurch the proceedings into crashing dullness, because he’s played by no one’s idea of a sure wit, Patrick Stewart (if you need to recall, exactly, just look at who he was playing in John Boorman’s definitive cinematic telling Excalibur). It’s really quite rude to the young actor, in fact, particularly when the meaningful goodbye to Alex is reserved for Merlin the elder.

Cornish nurtured the germ of his idea for decades, which sometimes works out very well – Luc Besson and The Fifth Element – but in this case never seems like it had sufficiently striking ideas in the first place to justify its translation to screen. Excalibur’s found on a building site, Neolithic temples are transportation gateways, and the Lady of the Lake raises Excalibur in a bathtub (okay, the last one is pretty good). The visuals for the demon horsemen sent by Morgana (Rebecca Ferguson, not especially memorable) are decent design-wise, but the effects generally, including bat Morgana, aren’t supported by the budget.

Where Attack the Block managed to make a merit of its small scale, here Cornish’s reach exceeds his grasp, with the consequence that, more often than not, The Kid Who Would Be King feels rather twee, like a CBBC concept on a slightly more cinematic canvas. This reaches its most underwhelming realisation when the entire school are trained in battle manoeuvres ahead of the coming eclipse and the arrival of the demon hordes.

Cornish throws in various thematic arcs about honesty and trust (the “Chiv-alric Code”), but they take on no real meaning as his young leads can’t carry them. And while he his moments visually (he has Bill Pope on board as cinematographer, so he should), the picture lacks a sufficiently distinct stylistic tone to underpin the mythic present (he probably should have looked to The Fisher King, where ironically the mythic was only in the head of one of its protagonists).

One’s left with the feeling of a movie a parent makes for their kids – aside from a brief political swipe at the end, that “A land is only as good as its leaders and you will make excellent leaders” – rather than seriously considering how it’s going to work for a wider audience. Even if it does end with a small boy cutting a woman’s head off. I’m doubtful that, with a stronger lead, The Kid Who Would Be King would have landed, and it’s telling that the picture could more satisfyingly have ended at a point when there’s well over half an hour to go.


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

He’s probably paranoid, high-strung, doesn’t like daylight. You know, has a lot of crumbs in his beard, if he has a beard.

Godzilla vs. Kong (2021) (SPOILERS) I’d like to report I had a blast with Godzilla vs. Kong . It’s lighter on its oversized, city-stomping feet than its slog of a MonsterVerse predecessor, Godzilla: King of the Monsters , and there are flashes of visual inspiration along with several engaging core ideas (which, to be fair, the series had already laid the seeds for). But this sequel still stumbles in its chief task: assembling an engaging, lively story that successfully integrates both tiny humans and towering titans.

You stink, my friend.

Mulan (2020) (SPOILERS) Let that be a lesson to Disney. It’s a fool’s errand to try and beat the Chinese at their own game, no matter how painstakingly respectful – or rather, pandering – you are. Indeed, Mulan ’s abysmal $40m box office take in the country – where it did get a proper release, so no plandemic excuses can be cited – feels like a direct rebuke; don’t try and tell us how to suck eggs. There’s an additional explanation too, of course. That Mulan sucks.

It's Dark Age, by Jupiter!

The Dig (2021) (SPOILERS) An account of the greatest archaeological find Britain would know until Professor Horner opened the barrow at Devil’s End. And should you scoff at such “ fiction ”, that’s nothing on this adaptation of John Preston’s 2007 novel concerning the Sutton Hoo excavations of the late 1930s. The Dig , as is the onus of any compelling fictional account, takes liberties with the source material, but the erring from the straight and narrow in this case is less an issue than the shift in focus from characters and elements successfully established during the first hour.

Roswell was a smokescreen, we've had a half a dozen better salvage operations.

The X-Files 1.24: The Erlenmeyer Flask The Erlenmeyer Flask makes for a fast-paced, tense and eventful ride, but does it make any sense? That less than mattered at the time, but revisiting the mythology arc (for probably the fourth or fifth time) reveals increasingly tenuous internal coherence as the various conspiracy elements begin to pile up and the situations become ever-more convoluted. This will become the Chris Carter’s signature: don’t examine the details too closely, go with the flow. Trust Chris implicitly.

UFO IN MOSSINGHAM?

A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon (2020) (SPOILERS) One might reasonably suggest the recourse of the ailing or desperate franchise is to resort, seemingly out of nowhere, to space aliens. Even Police Academy didn’t go that far (to Moscow, yes, but not to space). Perhaps animators think kids have no skills of discernment and will swallow any old sugar-coated crap. Perhaps they don’t, and they will. Ice Age had been enjoying absurd success until Collision Course sent Scrat spinning into the cosmos and grosses tumbled. Shaun the Sheep has been around for a quarter of a century, but this is only his second movie outing and already he’s pulling an E.T. on us. Of course, this may all be part of the grand scheme, and Nick Park is simply doing his bit to familiarise the tots in time for Project Blue Beam.

Careful how much boat you’re eating.

Onward (2020) (SPOILERS) Pixar’s Bright , or thereabouts. The interesting thing – perhaps the only interesting thing – about Onward is that it’s almost indiscernible from a DreamWorks Animation effort, where once they cocked a snook at such cheap-seats fare, seeing themselves as better class of animation house altogether. Just about everything in Onward is shamelessly derivative, from the Harry Potter /fantasy genre cash-in to the use of the standard Pixar formula whereby any scenario remotely eccentric or exotic is buried beneath the banal signifiers of modern society: because anything you can imagine must be dragged down to tangible everyday reference points or kids won’t be able to assimilate it. And then there’s the choice of lead voices, in-Disney star-slaves Chris Pratt and Tom Holland.

Our "Bullshit!" team has unearthed spectacular new evidence, which suggests, that Jack the Ripper was, in fact, the Loch Ness Monster.

Amazon Women on the Moon (1987) Cheeseburger Film Sandwich . Apparently, that’s what the French call Amazon Women on the Moon . Except that it probably sounds a little more elegant, since they’d be saying it in French (I hope so, anyway). Given the title, it should be no surprise that it is regarded as a sequel to Kentucky Fried Movie . Which, in some respects, it is. John Landis originally planned to direct the whole of Amazon Women himself, but brought in other directors due to scheduling issues. The finished film is as much of a mess as Kentucky Fried Movie , arrayed with more miss sketches than hit ones, although it’s decidedly less crude and haphazard than the earlier picture. Some have attempted to reclaim Amazon Women as a dazzling satire on TV’s takeover of our lives, but that’s stretching it. There is a fair bit of satire in there, but the filmmakers were just trying to be funny; there’s no polemic or express commentary. But even on such moderate t

By heaven, I’d thrash the life out of you… if I didn’t have to read the Nine O’Clock News.

The Green Man (1956) (SPOILERS) The Green movie from Launder and Gilliat starring Alastair Sim that isn’t Green for Danger. Which is to say, The Green Man can’t quite scale the heady heights of that decade-earlier murder mystery triumph, but neither is it any slouch. Sim is the antagonist this time – albeit a very affable, Sim-ish one – and his sometime protégée, a young George Cole, the hero. If the plot is entirely absurd, Robert Day’s movie wastes no time probing such insufficiencies, ensuring it is very funny, lively and beautifully performed.

Well, I’ll be damned. It’s the gentleman guppy.

Waterworld (1995) (SPOILERS) The production and budgetary woes of “ Kevin’s Gate ” will forever overshadow the movie’s content (and while it may have been the most expensive movie ever to that point – adjusted for inflation, it seems only Cleopatra came close – it has since turned a profit). However, should you somehow manage to avoid the distraction of those legendary problems, the real qualitative concerns are sure to come sailing over the cognitive horizon eventually; Waterworld is just so damned derivative. It’s a seafaring Mad Max. Peter Rader, who first came up with the idea in 1986, admitted as much. David Twohy, who later came aboard, also cited Mad Max 2 ; that kind of rip-off aspect – Jaws birthing Piranha – makes it unsurprising Waterworld was once under consideration by Roger Corman (he couldn’t cost it cheaply enough). Ultimately, there’s never a sufficient sense the movie has managed to become its own thing. Which is a bummer, because it’s frequently quite good fun.

Wow. Asteroids are made of farts. Okay. I got it.

Greenland (2020) (SPOILERS) Global terror porn for overpopulation adherents as Gerard Butler and his family do their darnedest to reach the safety of a bunker in the titular country in the face of an imminent comet impact. Basically, what if 2012 were played straight? These things come to test cinemas in cycles, of course. Sean Connery struggled with a duff rug and a stack of mud in Meteor , while Deep Impact plumbed for another dread comet and Armageddon an asteroid. The former, owing to the combined forces of Bruce Joel Rubin and Michael Tolkin, was a – relatively – more meditative fare. The latter was directed by Michael Bay. And then there’s Roland Emmerich, who having hoisted a big freeze on us in The Day After Tomorrow then wreaked a relatively original source of devastation in the form of 2012 ’s overheating Earth’s core. Greenland , meanwhile, is pretty much what you’d expect from the director of Angel Has Fallen .