The Kid Who Would Be King review: Joe Cornish, of Adam and Joe fame, arrives with his sophomoric effort in The Kid Who Would Be King. After receiving cult status by slamming an alien invasion in the middle of South London, Cornish seems to be up to his old tricks by having fantasy elements invade modern day London. It’s a recipe that sounds as though it can’t fail, an Arthurian legend retold in a London secondary school by a well loved comedic writer. ’80s nostalgia is also all the rage, and Cornish’s script definitely takes inspiration from those child focused adventures where the youth are plunged into perilous situations.
The Kid Who Would Be King isn’t devoid of charm, but it certainly lacks a distinctive voice. It’s pacing and characterisation are constructed in such a way that this feels like a quaint children’s teatime adventure that would be more at home on mid-90s CBBC or CITV. We follow Alex (Louis Ashbourne Serkis), as he takes on school bullies and navigates a strained relationship with his mother (Denise Gough). The cracks form quite early as it is apparent that Cornish is casting his net wide for an inoffensive romp. There is of course nothing wrong with that, but here it translates to a painfully generic script. An early sign of heroism sees Alex stand up to school bullies Lace (Tom Taylor) and Kaye (Rhianna Doris), who are comical bullies if anything, and give no sense of threat, or why they would “rule the school”. They hold Alex’s best friend Bedders (Dean Chaumoo) upside down and Alex defends his honour which of course gets Alex into trouble.
Once chased by the bullies, Alex comes across a sword in a stone, which reveals itself to be Excalibur and hails Alex as the new king. Angus Imrie arrives as a young Merlin, and completely steals the show from anyone and everyone. His mannerisms and enthusiasm bring the film to life, but also highlight how bland the rest of the cast are. Every now and again, for no apparent reason other than to add Patrick Stewart’s name to the cast list, Merlin transforms into his older self, and it just makes you miss Imrie’s interpretation. Chaumoo is relegated to stale comedy, Taylor and Doris are characters who have maybe one scene each that justifies their inclusion, and Rebecca Ferguson is wasted as an incredibly one-note villain, Morgana, who Alex and co must stop from destroying the world.
There is heart in some spots of the film, as Alex looks for a connection with his missing father. We see a strong bond between Alex and his mum, but these emotional sequences are transitioned into awkwardly and never quite find their footing. Serkis, son of Andy, is a fine actor, but there’s a lack of direction which fails to make the emotional, comedic, and serious scenes blend together cohesively; almost as though the role is compiled of three different performances.
As the film reaches its conclusion, which sees some impressive effects descend on a secondary school for a battle, , Cornish flourishes. No one can fault his expertise at handling action on a smaller budget, but unlike his previous film, there are no rea stakes. The demonic horde are easily extinguished, and the children are never in danger. Despite exciting moments, there is no tension, and this leaves us with a tale hardly worth telling. It prevents any form of investment from the audience and starts the mind wondering how this would have played out with more cutting, foulmouthed teens. Cornish has shown he can make dangerous criminal teens likeable, but fails to do the same with passive school kids.
There are moments to cherish here, such as a cool animated intro, and an immense car chase with a wonderful punchline, but a leaner run time would have made sure to not drown out any sense of fun and laughter. Unfortunately, The Kid Who Would Be King has nothing regal about it and is unlikely to charm anybody that been exposed to the Arthurian legend in the past. It may not be Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur-dull, but it could have easily been so much more.
The Kid Who Would Be King is released in cinemas on 15th February 2019.