The Kid Who Would Be King (Joe Cornish, 2019) 3 out of 4 stars.
A silly, if thoroughly enjoyable riff on the myth of King Arthur, The Kid Who Would Be King follows 12-year-old Alexander Elliott as he discovers a sword in a stone that might just be the legendary Excalibur, then finds himself in the middle of a battle for the fate of the Earth. Initially frightened (he is only 12, after all), young Alex eventually rises to the challenge of his destiny, gathering around him a team of would-be knights to fight by his side. Joined by the sorcerer Merlin, Alex and his companions struggle against demons internal and external, striving to be the best they can be, but threatened by their own worst natures. Full of many fine messages on the nature of virtue and kindness, the film offers lessons to make any parent proud, and should entertain the kids, as well.
Though Alex (Louis Ashbourne Serkis, son of Andy) has a loving mother at home, he misses his absent father, who long ago vanished under mysterious circumstances. A brave, if small, boy, Alex throws himself on larger school bullies who attack his best friend Bedders (Dean Chaumoo), subsequently finding himself a target of their interest, as well. Since their names are Lance (Tom Taylor) and Kaye (Rhianna Dorris), we suspect (if we know our King Arthur) the bullies might play a larger role in the story … and we would be correct. When the drawn sword re-awakens Arthur’s long-dormant half-sister, the sorceress Morgana (Rebecca Ferguson, The Greatest Showman), strange creatures start to pursue Alex, who must quickly gather allies. Fortunately, Merlin (Angus Imrie) shows up, though since he grows younger with the passage of time, he looks like a ragged teenager, and no one initially takes him seriously. A few demonstrations of magic later, including a transformation into his older self (Patrick Stewart, Logan), and all doubts are dispelled. Now our young friends just need a plan before the world comes to an end.
Director Joe Cornish (Attack the Block) keeps things moving along snappily, with nary a dull moment. The script presents a planet in peril beyond that posed by Morgana. We humans no longer care for anyone but ourselves, and this selfishness threatens to destroy us. One could argue with what follows – that we need a leader who is the “one true king” to remind us of what counts – but the central message that we are better when we think altruistically should hardly be controversial. Furthermore, the movie offers surprises that subvert the notion of blood lineage as a mark of greatness that (somewhat) make up for both the belief in a benevolent monarchy and the unfortunate sexist tinge to the setup of an evil woman as the force that will destroy us all (though Ferguson has loads of fun with the role). Add a touch of racial and gender diversity to the rest of the cast, and there is much to recommend here. Join Alex and friends in their quest, then, and let Merlin be your guide.