‘The Kid Who Would Be King’: Mehxcalibur

Let’s Not Go to This New Camelot, ‘Tis a Silly Place

King Arthur is a problematic character for a kid’s movie. Arthur as a kid? Not a problem. Disney did a fine job with Kid Arthur; The Sword in The Stone is a delightful movie, pulling out the Training Montage essentials of T.H. White’s The Once And Future King. Kid Arthur transforms into a few different animals, and by doing so learns how to be a king. Or not, as it turns out. He marries a woman who then has a fling with his greatest knight and best friend. And then he gets his half-sister pregnant, and their son grows up, and wreaks havoc on his kingdom. SPOILER ALERT: It really doesn’t end well.

 

 

That scene doesn’t come from The Kid Who Would Be King, by the way. It’s from John Boorman’s 1981 take on the Camelot story, Excalibur, a fantastically-bloody and exquisitely-filmed epic that remains the only good King Arthur movie.

The Kid Who Would Be King is not the prequel to The Man Who Be King, another great movie that doesn’t end well for the titular monarch. This version of the King Arthur myth exists strictly for the Harry Potter set, which means no incest or disembowelments. The Kid Who Would Be King updates the tale to post-Brexit England; our young Arthur is a bullied kid named Alex Elliot who, while being chased by tormentors Lance and Kaye (see what they did there?), finds a sword stuck in a block of stone, and you can probably guess what follows. There is a Merlin, and a Morgan Le Fey, and a bunch of CGI ghouls that threaten the new heir to Camelot and his fellow schoolmates-turned-Knights of The Round Table. They are not as fun as their forebears.


THE KID WHO WOULD BE KING ★★ (2/5 stars)
Directed by: Joe Cornish
Written by: Joe Cornish
Starring: Louis Ashborne Serkis, Angus Imrie, Patrick Stewart, Rebecca Ferguson
Running time: 120 min.


 

As a kid’s movie, The Kid Who Would Be King is fine, thanks to Joe Cornish. The writer-director is probably best known for his frenetic sci-fi cult film Attack The Block; it introduced John Boyega and Jodie Whittaker to American audiences, and much of the fun came from their performances. Here, we get another two-fer: Merlin is, alternately, played by Patrick Stewart and the much, much younger Angus Imrie. Both of them are great. Cornish seems to understand that he’s playing on the over-trodden field of YA Fantasy. There’s nothing here that your middle schooler hasn’t read or seen in a Potter/Percy Jackson/Artemis Fowl book/film, but the movie rarely lags, and even wrings a bit of retro charm out of what appears to deliberately retrograde special effects. Your kids will like it.

But I couldn’t help but think of Excalibur, in all of its plate-mailed, limb-hacking, Young Liam Neeson In A Minor Role glory. There have been a few King Arthur movies since then, and they’ve all been terrible. Even Excalibur shows signs of age –one good thing about CGI is that it gives the viewers big medieval battles among thousands. Boorman’s “battles” are fought among about 30 slow-moving extras. Thanks to Guy Ritchie, the grownups won’t get a good King Arthur movie for a while.

 

Could you return this to the library for me?

Jason Avant

Jason Avant is a writer and editor based in Carlsbad, California. He’s written for and edited a bunch of websites that no longer exist, and occasionally contributes to one that does: Roads and Kingdoms.

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