A band of kids embark on an epic quest to thwart a medieval menace. (from IMDB)
The legend of King Arthur, the Knights of the Round Table and the sword Excalibur have been the sources of many films and tales through the years. Writer/Director Joe Cornish’s unique take on the story–bringing it into modern times in a sort of retelling and homage at the same time–is a neat way to freshen up the familiar story for a new generation. In the same way Inkheart was about a beloved story in a book proving to be true, The Kid Who Would Be King takes the legend of Arthur and places a young boy named Alex right in the middle of it. In a way, it even rewrites the story, changing what it means to be worthy to wield Excalibur–much in the same way the latest Star Wars trilogy has changed what it means to be a Jedi. All the while, The Kid Who Would Be King takes viewers on an exciting adventure aimed at younger audiences that nearly recaptures the magic of some of the 80’s and 90’s fairytale stories, like The Neverending Story.
The Kid Who Would Be King isn’t exactly an instant classic, however. It’s certainly way better than one would expect from a movie like it (especially after seeing those mediocre, cheesy trailers), but it’s hardly one of the best movies of the year either. Still, for today’s youth-oriented fantasy action films, you certainly could do a lot worse than this movie. It’s the cast and characters that make this movie work. While it probably makes one too many pop culture references seemingly for the sake of trying to sound relevant and appealing to young audiences, the script isn’t bad, and there are several themes and moments that are likely to grab hold of your heartstrings. Louis Ashbourne Serkis–the actual son of actor Andy Serkis (known for playing Gollum in Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, and for being one of the villains in Black Panther)–plays our hero, Alex, and he does a decent job, too. I could see him going on to do greater things (even though his default expression in this film seemed to be “worried”). Still, at times he reminded me just a hair of Marty McFly from Back to the Future, and that’s a good thing. (Perhaps the movie could have benefited from a little more of that kind of a personality in the central hero, though.) His fellow “knights” were decent enough, too, and I was surprised how well Alex’s enemies made the transition from antagonists to allies. Finally, I wasn’t getting a good vibe from Angus Imrie’s performance as a young Merlin from the commercials, but he proved to actually be a highlight in the film. It was also a treat to see Patrick Stewart pop up now and then as the older Merlin.
The lovely Rebecca Ferguson, who I love as Ilsa in the two most recent Mission: Impossible films (Rogue Nation and Fallout), is an interesting mix of beautiful and entirely creepy as the film’s main villain, Morgana. She’s quite unnerving at times, but she gets downright horrifying when she’s replaced with a computer generated winged beast. She ends up looking like something lifted out of the original Jason and the Argonauts or Clash of the Titans. Her whispery, haunting voice (which reminded me of Cate Blanchett’s Galadriel during her more eerie moments) added to the sinister vibe she gave off. All of this, coupled with the firey skeleton knights that chased our heroes around throughout the film, adds up to the movie being a pretty intense one for being aimed at a younger audience. Ultimately, the ages of the kids in the movie are pretty much the target audience for this film, with it being too dark and rough for even younger audiences, and a bit too juvenile for older audiences. I definitely think the lessons and themes of the movie are redeeming enough for older viewers, but the overall feel of the film (and its negative protrayal of almost every adult in the movie) limits its audience quite a bit.
The content for the film is kind of edgy by today’s PG-rated standards. It’s probably light compared to the PG’s of the 80s, but for a filmed aimed at tweens, and maybe younger, there’s a surprising amount of scary imagery (I definitely don’t think my 8-year-old son could handle it). Morgana is creepy to begin with, but in several scenes, she turns into a winged, lizard-like creature with a hideous, fanged face. For the climactic battle, she even grows in size dramatically and–spoiler alert–one of the characters jumps on her back and chops her head off… which seems like a bit much for this kind of a movie. There’s a little bit of language, but nothing worse than “h*ll” and “Oh my G-d.” There is some mild nudity in a scene where fog mostly veils young Merlin walking naked through a field, and while Morgana is trapped in a tree-like pillar, her shapely form is pretty pronounced, although not graphic.
For the most part, The Kid Who Would Be King was far better than I expected it to be, but it certainly wasn’t without its fair share of problems. The magical content will definitely make some viewers uncomfortable, while the dark and sinister imagery that’s used will limit some of its younger viewers. And even though its target audience is around the tween age, there’s enough depth to the story for older audiences to appreciate at least some of it, and maybe even recapture a bit of that youthful, adventurous spirit they lost over the years.
– John DiBiase (reviewed: 4/18/19)
Blu-Ray Special Features Review
The Kid Who Would Be King is available on 4K/Blu-Ray, Blu-Ray/DVD/Digital, DVD, and through the usual digital providers. Along with the feature film, the Blu-Ray disc includes the following extras:Deleted Scenes (4:03) – There are three short deleted scenes lumped together (not viewable separately). The first shows the kids around the table at Lance’s house having tea. Next is a scene of the kids walking and talking about the code and Lance plotting to take the sword. Lastly, we see Alex walking down the street to find Bedder’s home and Merlin shows up. We then see him stopping at Kaye’s and then Lance’s house in an effort to round them up before the scene where they assemble to discuss how their mission to vanquish Morgana was incomplete.
Origins of a King (11:48) – Director/writer Joe Cornish reveals that he came up with the idea for this movie when he was 13, which was 35 years ago. This segment covers casting, while showing us a great deal of on-set, behind-the-scenes B roll footage. The actors all talk about the story, the new take on the legend, and Joe’s methods as a director.
Young Knights (12:07) is all about the child actors and their characters. Cornish talks about what it was like working with kid actors, and how their attitudes are so different than working with adults. Each of the child actors get a chance to talk about their characters with the other actors talking about that actor and what it was like working with them. (1 “d*mn,” 4 “Oh my G-d” from a scene in the movie)
Knight School (10:04) is about the spells and the kids training a lot to be able to do sword fighting, horseback riding, and wire stunts. (1 “G-d,” 1 “Oh my G-d”)
The Two Merlin’s (11:49) covers the legend of the character and the 2 different actors talking about their individual versions of Merlin (played by Angus Imrie and Patrick Stewart). They talk about trying to match the two performances up together and what it was like to work with each of them.
Meet Morgana (12:03) – Here, they talk about Morgana as a real, very evil villain. The filmmakers talk about Rebecca Ferguson’s performance, and she reflects on the project as well, and how much fun it was to do. She also didn’t even know what motion capture was before doing this film and had to learn about it. It was great to hear Rebecca’s perspective on things, and there is some really cool behind the scenes footage (including lots about how they got her in that tree. Ha!)
Movie Magic (13:33) talks about filming on location at famous and legendary spots in England. Cornish talks about how they used a real school to shoot in, had made a stunt version of the coin machine, a collapsing building set, stones to hold the sword and make it removable, wire work, and lots of practical effects and sets!
Hair, Makeup and Costume Tests (2:58) – We see the kids dancing and trying out their costumes for camera tests.
Promotional Material: This is a collection of short little videos made to promote the film. Four of them are fun little spots where Angus Imrie is playing Merlin. “Merlin’s Magic: Mind Control” (0:52) is him teaching viewers how to do the hand motions so they can record themselves trying to replicate them for viral videos. “Merlin’s Magic: Duplication” (0:52) has him showing how to duplicate swords. “Merlin’s Magic: Portals” (0:59) shows him opening a portal in a portion of Stone Henge and walking through. Lastly, “Merlin’s Magic: Popcorn” (0:33) shows him duplicating popcorn behind a counter at a movie theater. The final video, “Be The King” Lay Lay Music Video (2:38), is a brutally painful pop / rap video with a pre-tween girl rapper (Lay Lay, I assume) performing in a bus with clips from the film mixed in.
– John DiBiase, (reviewed: 4/19/19)
Parental Guide: Content Summary
Sex/Nudity: We see the beautiful Morgana trapped in roots that wrap around her body. She looks as though she might be nude except for the roots around her chest, stomach, and legs; Teenage Merlin walks across a field naked and the fog mostly blocks his nudity;
Vulgarity/Language: 2 “h*ll,” 6 “Oh my G-d,” 1 “G-d,” 1 “G-d forsaken”
Alcohol/Drugs: Spoiler: Alex is told his dad was a drunk.
Blood/Gore: We see some bloody scrapes on Alex’s face; We see lots of skulls and skeletons underground in Morgana’s lair; We see the head of the winged monster get sliced off and briefly see the meaty wound as the head falls off.
Violence: In the prologue, we see animation of knights fighting, a scary witch named Morgana who spreads her wings like a beast, and the creature being stabbed and falling into a chasm; We see Bedders held upside down as Lance and Kaye shake out his pockets. They then drop him upside down on he flops to the ground; Lance shoves Alex and he falls over. Alex gets up and then runs after Lance, jumps him to the ground and pounds on his back; Lance and Kaye chase Alex and he falls off a ledge. They think he’s hurt or dead and run away; Kids throw food and bottles at Merlin and he falls over and turns into a bird; A glowing eyed creature crawls out of the ground. It comes up Alex’s stairs in his house and kicks in his door. With a sword, it slashes his shirt and is about to deal a fatal blow when Merlin shows up just in time. The “sentinel” creature then goes poof; We see lots of skulls and skeletons underground in Morgana’s lair; Alex almost stabs his mom with his sword when he turns around while holding it. She’s startled by this; Merlin uses magic and pops light fixtures in a house, and shows a future of burning houses and the kids enslaved; The firey skeleton knights attack the kids and nearly kill Lance. Alex hits it back with his sword. The kids douse the creatures with chemicals which cause them to catch on fire. They then jump into a car and drive away, smashing each one in the process; The kids fight trees that come to life in an effort to train (the tree roots move like big spiders); The kids get wrapped in roots and pulled into the ground. Merlin vanquishes them and falls over; Lance pushes down Bedders and Alex. Alex and Lance fight with swords until one of the swords breaks; More evil knight creatures come out of the ground and chase them. They fight in the forest and are chased to a cliff. Alex jumps down onto a ledge and the horses and knights fall off completely; Vines grow and grab at the kids and pull them away. We then see them wrapped up in vines along the ceiling; Morgana changes her appearance to a horrifying demon monster with wings. Alex stabs her and escapes; The Knight monsters fight a school of kids. Some drive cars to ram the knights. Then the cars accidentally back into each other; Morgana grabs Merlin’s throat and pushes him against a wall; Morgana, as a winged beast, chases Alex and shoots fire out of her mouth. Bedders ropes her monster form and gets dragged on the ground a bit. She keeps trying to burn them in the process. Merlin gets hit with fire as a bird and when he turns back into a human, Alex puts the fire on him out; Merlin creates a storm to entrap her. Alex then jumps on her back and uses Excalibur to cut her head off.