It’s been eight long years since the release of Attack the Block. It was a great little sci-fi/horror-comedy that would wind up launching the career of star John Boyega and was the role I first noticed Jodie Whittaker in (having missed and still having never seen Venus). It also seemingly promised a new director to watch in British cult comedian Joe Cornish. Combined with his work that year in rewriting Steven Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin, things were looking great. Since then, however, it’s been little but false starts and quiet with his sole behind the scenes credit coming on the screenplay for co-writing Ant-Man, the very one that would be heavily rewritten when Edgar Wright was removed from the project.
His second film is a rarity in another way in that it is a live action family film of the sorts that they just don’t make anymore. The kinds that aren’t afraid about getting a bit dark for the kids because it knows they can handle it but is very clearly made with them in mind. I can’t say the world was asking for more King Arthur stories (I know I wasn’t and based how big a bomb this is, I can tell I am far from alone), but I was willing to give Cornish the benefit of the doubt. His adaptation is a very earnest one and I’ll give him credit for that. Sure, it subverts certain aspects of the traditional story, but given the diversity of Arthurian legends and the message the film wanted to convey, the changes it makes are all understandable and when it is obviously sticking to the traditional story, the film doesn’t acknowledge it with a knowing wink, it embraces it wholeheartedly.
After a nice, requisite animated prologue with Arthur’s half-sister Morgana being vanquished and promising to return, we are introduced to our modern world filled with awful headlines (exaggerated of course). Alex (Louis Ashbourne Serkis, son of Andy) is a kid who is consistently defending his friend Bedders from two bullies (Lance and Kaye). After narrowly escaping the bullies on one occasion, he stumbles upon the actual Sword in the Stone, successfully pulling Excalibur out. He’s spied upon and later guarded, protected, and trained by Merlin, here reimagined as an early twenty-something wielding a bunch of magic involving finger snaps and hand slaps and wearing an appropriated Led Zeppelin t-shirt. Granted, that’s less reimagined and more logical conclusion of Merlin’s traditional aging in reverse (played by Angus Imrie in youthful appearance and Patrick Stewart in older form), but it’s still in keeping with the younger takes on everyone.
Alex has until the solar eclipse to figure out how to stop Morgana (Rebecca Ferguson) and to defeat her. Morgana doesn’t actually do much of anything though for much of the movie, just staying in her evil lair stuck to a wall, growling in an evil whisper and plotting evil from afar and her minions show up in slowly increasing numbers at night to attack Alex and his knights (whose identities are rather obvious for anyone with any preexisting knowledge of the story). That Morgana eventually started making me mentally think of a specific laughable NuWho monster at certain points didn’t help, but she’s an absolute joke.
Speaking of, the humor feels rather juvenile, not in the sense that it is immature, just that it seems like the kind of film that would be a lot funnier to a child. The action is competent both in how its shot and in translating the Arthurian combat to the present day. The story elements are also a solidly built adventure and family movie with all the expected questing and lessons build in. It’s all very ’80s adventure film stuff, but as someone who isn’t into that Goonies type of film, it’s hearkening back to an era I wasn’t needing to see more of. The Kid Who Would Be King is the kind of film I’m glad is being made for its audience, which despite its box office I believe exists as I think this is a cable movie through and through, yet one that doesn’t register with me specifically.