Hi Everybody! Welcome to another review from Flickmuncher.com where we entertain food for thought. I promised I’d start getting these out more regularly and I am still planning on beginning a retrospective review of TV shows starting in March with the pilot episode of Ducktales (2017). Until then, here’s my review for a film that just premiered in the US, The Kid who would be King.
So what’s the story? Alexander Elliot (Louis Ashbourne Serkis) is a twelve-year-old British schoolboy with a love of stories and mythology. And since Hollywood loves badly doing already overdone clichés, Alex and his equally nerdy friend Bedders (Dean Chaumoo) are constantly bullied at school, primarily by classmates Lance (Tom Taylor) and Kay (Rhianna Doris). However, while being chased home by the two bullies one night Alex wanders into an old construction site and discovers a sword sticking out of a cement block. To his amazement Alex discovers that he is able to draw the sword from the stone and believes that it is the mythical blade Excalibur. This coincides with arrival of a strange student calling himself “Mertin” (Patrick Stewart and Angus Imrie) who reveals that Morgana (Rebecca Ferguson from Mission Impossible), the ancient foe of King Arthur, is returning and while bring destruction and enslavement to all of England. Alexander must gather allies and enemies alike to go on a quest that will bring about the evil witch’s end once and for all. Will he succeed? And yes, that is a rhetorical question.
Sssooo, let’s start with the good parts. In show-business it’s a well-known fact that working with child actors is significantly more difficult than dealing with adults. They are much more limited in their understanding of their own expressions and emotions and so have less control over those expressions.
Why am I putting this in with the good bits? Well because, for the most part at least, the young cast does a surprisingly good job with the material they’re given. The actor who plays Alex, Louis Ashbourne Serkis (son of famous mo-cap actor Andy Serkis), in particular has to deal with carrying the lion’s share of emotions on his shoulders. And he does a laudable job of it throughout the film.
Also, the presence of Patrick Stewart as Merlin is wonderful. He lends an authenticity and a gravitas to the film whenever he appears, which isn’t often enough.
Another thing I liked about this movie was the attention to detail when it came to the mythology of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. It would have been easy enough for the filmmakers to just reference the basic elements of the mythology and the audience wouldn’t have questioned it. But they go beyond that and discuss locations across Britain that—whether or not they are actually part of the myths—made me feel good that the writers cared enough to add them. I suppose it’s partially due to how British the whole thing feels and it is a little thing next to others I’ll talk about later but details like that only add to a film’s tone and atmosphere. It shows the filmmakers were going the extra mile and I respect them for that.
With all of that said, this movie has some severe problems going on with it.
I credited the movie’s child actors with how good of a job they did. The same sadly, cannot be said for the adults. Patrick Stewart is a shining jewel amidst a pile of burning hammyness and disinterest. This is a shame because Rebecca Ferguson is a genuinely good actor. I’ve enjoyed her work in the Mission Impossible films and in a little known work called the Red Tent so it’s rather disappointing to me to see how bored and phoned-in her performance is here.
The one time she seems genuinely interested is in a scene when Old Merlin (Patrick Stewart) confronts Morgana. The scene itself isn’t that well written but the two actors in it succeeded in drawing me in more than I had been for most of the movie up to that point. It’s a testament to how good acting can take cheesy lines that no one could say and makes us take it seriously.
Unfortunately, that brings me to Angus Imgrie who plays Young Merlin. I cannot sufficiently put into words how much I hated this character. I have nothing against Imgrie. I’m sure he’s a fine person and a perfectly decent actor, and I don’t begrudge him having to play a younger version of a character also being played by Patrick Stewart. But his whole performance in this movie just felt wrong. Wrong in tone, wrong in delivery, wrong in character. Merlin is supposed to be a wise sage who guides the heroes on their quest and teaches them to become better people. But Imgrie plays him like an eccentric, goofy, half-written Harry Potter character. He is hamming it up so badly here that it becomes incredibly annoying.
And this wouldn’t be so bad if that was how the character was intended by the writers, but because Patrick Stewart plays it like the wise-old sage, it makes Imgrie’s version feel like an entirely different character from an entirely different movie.
Which leads me to the last and arguably biggest problem with this movie: its identity. British pop-culture, as far as entertainment goes, has lived in the shadow of two giants: Harry Potter and Doctor Who. What do both those things have in common? Well, they are both, in a word…quirky. They both have characters that do odd things in odd ways for odd reasons, and it feels like everything that British entertainment has produced since then has looked to cash in on those traits whether it makes sense or not.
I think this movie suffers a lot from standing in those shadows. It tries to add elements from those franchises into a story where they don’t fit. The story of King Arthur may be a fairy tail but it’s a very serious one that involved bloodshed, death, adultery, and betrayal. Obviously those things wouldn’t work very well for a movie with a PG rating—though how it managed that I’ll never understand. The Skeleton Knights alone should have bumped it up to PG-13—but the story doesn’t make one think of the word “quirky” or “whimsy” when describing it. So the resulting movie feels very confused and at odds with itself, leaving the audience (the adults anyway) equally uncertain how to feel about it.
CONCLUSION: Most of us have memories from when we were kids when we’d play dress up and pretend to be fearless knights facing down cardboard dragons or lovely princesses ruling benevolently over a land of Barbie dolls. We’d conjure stories where we the kids were the heroes and grown-ups didn’t exist except to reward us for how amazing we were.
That is this movie in a nutshell. And I’m sure kids will love it. Heck, the theater I went to see this in was packed with kids and they all loved it. So if you just want something to keep your kids attention for a couple hours, this is perfectly serviceable.
However. If you’re looking for something more meaningful either for yourself, or for your child to watch, I cannot really recommend this. When the idea of King Arthur and his Knights is mentioned, I think of epic battles and struggles against great evil that affects everyone in our heroes’ world, in addition to the heroes themselves. So why does this movie feel so small? Why does it feel at the end, like nothing really changed beyond our heroes learning a lesson about honor and friendship? Shouldn’t the change at the end be greater?
Questions like these are what separate films meant to keep kids quiet for two hours from movies that stick with them when they’re adults.
What movies do you remember best as a kid? And what did you think of the review? Did you agree or disagree with my analysis? What parts of the movie stuck out to you? Let me know all about it on the Flickmuncher Facebook page or in the comments below. Thanks and as always, May the Flick be with You!