The Kid Who Would Be King

by Greg Vellante

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday January 23, 2019

'The Kid Who Would Be King'
'The Kid Who Would Be King'  

Watching Joe Cornish's "The Kid Who Would Be King" is like catching up with your cool older cousin nearly a decade later, only to find that he's become someone else. Or, at the very least, emits the illusion of being someone else. Suit and tie, clean shaven, driving a minivan with kids -- what happened to that rad dude who lent me his rock records and showed me an R-rated movie when my parents were out of town? Given, he's still fun to hang out with, but the contrast between the cousin you knew and the cousin who currently stands before you is undeniably staggering. This is how I felt while watching Cornish's sophomore film, which hits theaters eight years after 2011's astoundingly bonkers alien invasion flick, "Attack the Block."

His debut film had swagger in every frame, with inventive cinematography, edits that were a delightful frenzy, and a wildly entertaining premise that found teenage London street teenagers, a nurse, and a couple of stoners battling otherworldly creatures that resembled, as the characters often remark, "big alien gorilla wolf motherfuckers." "The Kid Who Would Be King" is squeaky clean by comparison, following the adventures of a pre-teen boy named Alex (Louis Ashbourne Serkis) who discovers he has lineage to King Arthur after pulling Excalibur from a slab of concrete at a demolition site. As one would expect, Alex teams up with a crew and must find a way to battle against the impending danger that coincidentally arrives in tandem with his heroic discovery.

Oh, and you also get a dual performance for the classic character of Merlin, both young and old. The former is played by future star Angus Imrie, who is hands down the greatest thing about the film (his performance shines with unashamed silliness). His efforts are seconded by his adult self, played by Sir Patrick Stewart, who plays it straight while sporting an oversized Led Zeppelin T-shirt and yelling incoherencies into the sky. It's almost enough to make you want a Merlin spinoff. Almost.

In "The Kid Who One Be King," one can certainly discern where Cornish's affinity for the content comes from (there's no arguing against the film's inherent goofiness), but the visual palette of the film and its overall story beats feel so vanilla and predictable that there's not much distinguishing its direction from that of any other studio family film that comes and goes through the multiplex system year after year. I was moderately entertained throughout, but much of my thought process during the film was an internal debate as to why the film was displeasing me so much on an aesthetic level. As I said, this ain't no "Attack the Block."

Nor does it need to be. Filmmakers evolve over time, but there were so many things that stood out in Cornish's first film while his second film just kind of stands still. It's a well-paced story with interesting ideas (including a fascinating post-Brexit, Trump-era allegory that basically amounts to, "The children are going to be our saviors in this fucked-up world of strongman politics and sociocultural chaos"), but the strengths of its screenplay are downplayed by the weaknesses of its filmmaking. For a work this thematically insane, it deserves the same type of visual inventiveness and energy that creative filmmakers like Taika Waititi and James Gunn brought to mainstream pictures like "Thor: Ragnarok" and the first two "Guardians of the Galaxy" films, respectively. Joe Cornish is right in line with these directors when you view the merits of "Attack the Block," so his restraint here is frustrating.

But don't get me wrong; this isn't a bad film. Pedestrianism aside, "The Kid Who Would Be King" has plenty of moments that delight, thrill, and captivate. But its construction feels wholly artificial, and it's hard not to imagine what this film would've been like as a hard-R-rated romp akin to "Attack the Block," complete with bloody battles, swear-happy kids, and unabashed experimentalism. Alas, it ends up being just like that cousin you once knew, now behind the wheel of a 2016 Kia Sedona and blasting Kidz Bop. In many ways, this makes "The Kid Who Would Be King" ideal, unobjectionable family fare, and that's completely fine -- as is one's right to fondly remember the "big alien gorilla wolf motherfuckers" of yesteryear.