I don’t know who is in charge of creating the trailers for Joe Cornish’s films but he needs to have a quiet word. The first time I saw the Attack the Block trailer I absolutely hated it but, as a long-time lover of Adam and Joe, I wanted to give it a chance. The film was certainly better than the trailer made it seem. It was a fun play with a much seen genre and Cornish really made the most out of his younger cast. It was the film that introduced us to the great John Boyega and gave us yet more evidence that Jodie Whittaker was a force to be reckoned with. And look where they both are now. An ex-Stormtrooper and Dr Who respectively. Cornish has a talent of gathering a great cast and making things work despite appearances. So, when I first saw and hated the trailer for his second film, I couldn’t help but cringe at The Kid Who Would Be King. It just looked like a boring children’s blockbuster that made obvious jokes and wasn’t very exciting. But I had hope. And, let’s face it, it had to be better than some of the adaptations of the Arthurian legend, right? I mean there have been some stinkers.
We all know the story by now. Sword in a stone. Someone pulls it out. Becomes King of England. Has a bunch of knights. Defeats evil. It’s a great legend and has been the basis of many films over the years. But in 2019, Joe Cornish has presented us with a new version of events. A version that takes us into the heart of a post-Brexit England and makes knights out of school children. It’s a fun concept that would bring a medieval subject to a modern audience. Unfortunately, the film bombed at the box office. There have been much talk about why this is but, you ask me, it’s all about the shitty trailers. I mean those things sucked. I was pretty excited about this film from the first time I heard Cornish talking about it but seeing that trailer made me hate it.
Basically, the story centres around Alex played by Louis Ashbourne Serkis, son of Andy. Alex is your typical schoolboy who worries about homework, bullies, and is still trying to get over his dad leaving. As a boy he was obsessed with the legend of Kind Arthur so when he accidentally stumbles across a sword in a stone he can’t help but pull it out. That kick-starts a chain of events that sees Merlin turn up in the form of teenage boy, the evil Morgana waking up to take over the Earth, and angry skeleton monsters trying to kill Alex every night. With only four days to stop Morgana, Alex must unite his friends and his enemies just as King Arthur did and set off on a journey to get the answer he needs.
The Kid Who Would Be King is a fun concept and definitely harks back to traditional children’s adventure films. Adults will remember the great films of their childhood. I’m thinking things like The Goonies. It has that wonderful charm to it and is a great films family films and will be thoroughly enjoyed by young audiences in particular. It doesn’t really do anything amazingly new and original with legend but the modern setting does allow for a few inspired moments. The trailer made it seem like the jokes were going to be fairly cringey but there are some funny moments. Certainly plenty for children to get a chuckle out of.
And there is a lot of good stuff here. Joe Cornish once again prove that he knows how to get the best out of his cast. All the children are remarkable but none more so than Serkis. He has a lot to do with this film and has a great deal of responsibility. This is a very earnest film and Alex has to make more than a few heroic speeches about honour, valour, and the Knight’s code. It all works surprisingly well and it’s because everyone commits fully. This is a film that finds the perfect balance between fun and preachy. Yes, it’s message is telling us to work together and be good. It just manages to do it in a really successful and charming way.
The main problem, as I see it, is that there is a lot to explain here and most of it falls into the hands of young Alex himself. So much of the script is just exposition where our young hero reads from his childhood book. Then there’s all the explaining that Merlin (Angus Imrie) has to give us. It just feels quite bloated. And, at a run time of 2 hours, it does go on a bit. I know movies for kids no longer stubbornly stick to the less than 90 minute times of my youth but this film feels like a 2 hour film. I guess it doesn’t help that this film is a little light on the action. As a villain, Morgana is fantastic and played completely straight. But she does spend much of the film incapacitated. And as fun as skeleton horsemen are, they don’t have all that much about them. Yes, we have a few good training montages and some interesting set pieces but it isn’t really until the end that we get any real action.
But, despite all this, I can’t really understand why this film did so badly. It’s a nostalgic, charming, and fun film that can be enjoyed by all ages. Cornish and his cast do remarkably well to breathe new life into a tired story. Is it just terrible marketing? Is it that kids today don’t give a shit about Knights and Wizards of old? Is it that February was a really shitty time to release it? Who knows. What I do know is that this film made me feel like I was a kid again and, really, that’s all it needed to do.