Review: The Kid Who Would Be King (2019) – Unbalanced & Unfocused

Louis Ashbourne Serkis in The Kid Who Would Be King

I’m not sure what has changed in the eight years since Attack The Block came out but Joe Cornish’s latest just doesn’t have the same zest to it that his debut did. While it might be his transition to the fantasy genre or the fact that his latest is strangely political for a kids film but The Kid Who Would Be King lacks any of the novelty or style that Cornish is known for. This Arthurian tale of heroes and villains and two becoming one is nice in the short run but never really captures the attention is clearly expects from you.

Telling the story of Alex (Louis Ashbourne Serkis), a kid sick of being the downtrodden kid at school along with his equally bullied friend Bedders (Dean Chaumoo). When he finds a sword stuck in the stone he finds his life changed when Merlin (Angus Imrie/Patrick Stewart) seeks him out and informs him that he has just a few days to stop the witch Morgana (Rebecca Furguson) from destroying the world. To save his world he must bring together his friends and enemies and face his fears at the same time.

Despite a promising opening animation that feels fresh and lively that sets up a grand story of epic proportions, this Cornish written story lulls into complacency almost as soon as it comes down to earth and the dreary streets of Alex’s neighbourhood. While it might be an interesting contrast if there was any kind of comparison bit the direction here is so lifeless, lacking in colour or flare. Scenes of tension or excitement come and go with little to no energy.

This old legend feels just that, old. The jokes have been carefully selected for peak playfulness, never quite feeling childlike, instead feeling like the witticism of someone who proclaims to still be one. The whole film feels sanitized, designed in a lab to play to the younger audience while never taking into account the people bringing them. This is toned down cinema that never embraces what it could say, instead choosing to pander to the audience in favour of a compelling story. Resting on his laurels a little too much, Cornish takes what worked from Attack the Block and dumbs it down.

While not without its clever moments, the dual role of Merlin being one of those inspired choices thanks to an impressive turn by Imrie, the son of British actress Celia Imrie. It’s just that you shouldn’t be actively seeking out elements to like about a film, you should just be able to enjoy it and The Kid Who Would Be King is something you want to shine, but it just feels like a whole lot of buildup for not much release.

While throwing down praise on Serkis and Imrie is easy, they are class acts in a film drastically lacking in dynamic characters, it doesn’t add enough. Add a great supporting turn by Denise Gough as Alex’s overprotective mother and you have some glimmers of something more. However they make up three gems in an otherwise unsightly necklace.

The main issue, and I say this with much appreciation for what it was trying to do, is that Cornish has a complete lack of delicacy when it comes to his message. What should be a film about togetherness over division is a vapid Brexit allegory that lacks the finesse to hide it behind clever visuals or smart writing. Seeking to band the younger generation together, he has thrown the older generation under the bus it seems, claiming us to be a lost cause, the problem, not the solution.

There is a distinct lack of empathy for half the people paying money to watch the film. An important message for the youth of today i agree, Cornish bungles how he handles it, pushing against a British disconnect too fervently, failing to concentrate on the larger task at hand, crafting a film worthy of its message. It all seems mishandled, bordering on clumsiness.

While I’d happily watch a film that plays with the ideas Cornish does, I’d much rather enjoy myself while doing so. If I wanted to see a story about people coming together and moving past their own disagreements as a country, or as a people, I’d watch The Aftermath again, and probably cry my eyes out while doing so. Sadly I expected more here and I hope for a return to form in the future.


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