Starring: Louis Ashbourne Serkis, Denise Gough, Dean Chaumoo
Director: Joe Cornish
Screenplay: Joe Cornish
Adventure/Family/Fantasy, Rated: PG
Running Time: 120 minutes
Release Date: January 25, 2019
I kid you not, Greg, it’s time to review this next movie.
What could be a better Hero’s Journey than the King Arthur legend told through the antics of teens. Let’s recap:
Alex Elliot (Louis Ashbourne Serkis) is a young kid in England who is being bullied at school by Lance (Tom Taylor) and Kaye (Rhianna Dorris). He makes friends with Bedders (Dean Chaumoo) who is also bullied. One night, while running away from Lance and Kaye, Alex stumbles across a large sword imbedded in a huge rock at a construction site. Curious, he removes the sword and shows it to Bedders. They identify the sword as Excalibur, the legendary sword of King Arthur.
The next day, Alex is stalked by a lanky awkward teen who reveals himself as Merlin (Angus Imrie) from days gone by. Merlin explains Alex is the Chosen One and that the evil Morgana is coming back to life. In four day’s time (during the solar eclipse) her minions will rise and take over the earth. It’s up to Alex to gather his friends and save the Earth. But first, Alex feels the call to find his father whom he thinks has the secret to their mission – because before he left he gave him a book about King Arthur with an inscription “to me you will always be the once and future king.”
Greg, The Kid Who Would be King is a modern-day King Arthur tale that’s intended for 12-year-olds but somehow manages to appeal to folks all ages. In most movies, the various stages of the hero’s journey are quite noticeable — assuming you pay attention. In this film, you don’t even need to pay attention, as the stages are explicit and sledgehammered. The Arthurian book is even used as a guide to show us all the stages, the special characters, and the notable events of the hero’s quest. We’re swept up by the story and the journey even when we’re fully conscious of how and why we’re swept up.
I’m pretty sure the makers of this film watched and studied the film, Finding Joe before finalizing the screenplay. Characters in The Kid Who Would be King utter statements that could be directly lifted from Finding Joe and from the writings of Joseph Campbell himself.
For example, Alexander asks Young Merlin how he is to find the entrance to the villain’s underground lair, to which Merlin snaps, “You must find your own way.” This response echoes Campbell’s view of the hero’s journey as well as the human journey. While a mentor like Merlin helps the hero on the journey, the mentor himself doesn’t do all the legwork. In the final analysis, the hero must go it alone.
Another example of Finding Joeisms is found when Old Merlin tells Alexander, “You need nothing but that which you already have.” Here again is the reminder, illustrated so powerfully in The Wizard of Oz, that every one of us is sitting on treasure, that the secret of our enlightenment is inside us all along. All we need is a mentor to help us decode the secret. We should also point out that seeing Patrick Stewart in the role of Old Merlin is an absolute delight.
The movie is all good solid entertainment, minus the silly Home Alone ending where the kids booby-trap their school to catch the bad guys. The script doctors handed out the wrong prescription here, almost ruining a perfectly entertaining story. Apparently, even movies for children have fallen prey to the Fatal Attraction syndrome in which the villain at the end appears to be dead but is actually just dormant or pretending. I wonder if Glenn Close and Michael Douglas know how much their legacy has stained the conclusions of many movies. Still, The Kid Who Would Be King is a wonderful film that is sure to entertain audiences of all ages.
Despite the fact that this film is attuned to a young audience, I thoroughly enjoyed The Kid Who Would Be King for many of the reasons you shared regarding Campbell and the Hero’s Journey. I actually was pleased with the “split climax.” It was a refreshing spin on the classic Hero’s Journey. And is solidified Alex’s transformation from a victim to a leader.
In my mind, this is an attempt by the filmmakers to remind young British children that they have a true mythology beside the one offered by Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings – which was cobbled together from fantasy lore and his own brilliant imagination. I felt this reimagining of the King Arthur legend was more true to it origins than many adult offerings of recent years like 2017’s King Arthur: Legend of the Sword or the terrible King Arthur (2004).
I was also excited by the theme that anyone can be a hero. It’s not royal lineage or DNA that makes one a hero. It’s a theme we’ve seen multiple times last year in films like Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and 2004’s Kick Ass. (I might also add, I think that’s going to be the ultimate lesson in the final Star Wars movie.)
The Kid Who Would Be King is solid fun family entertainment, and by using the word “family” I don’t mean to imply that adults without families should stay away from the film. This is a story that not only shows us a good hero’s story, it also tells us what it is showing us with a fun lightness of spirit that has universal appeal. Angus Imrie and Patrick Stewart are true joys to watch in their roles as Merlin the Mentor who guides our hero ensemble toward fulfilling their quest. I give this film 3 Reels out of 5.
Our hero Alex attracts a team of helpers in Beddders, Lance, and Kaye. They along with Merlin help Alex undergo a significant hero’s transformation. Let’s also not forget the important role of Alex’s mother in giving Alex the boost in confidence he needs to assume the role of the hero. Once again, Joe Campbell’s adage about the hero needing to carve out his own journey is paradoxically juxtaposed with the equally central adage about the hero always needing some help. In all, the hero’s story here is absolutely terrific and earns the full 5 Hero points out of 5.
Regarding the message of the movie, it’s pretty clear that we learn the age-old lessons of Joe Campbell himself regarding the central importance of finding our gift, our call to adventure, and making it uniquely our calling and not someone else’s. Every one of us has a gift and an opportunity to use it, and life somehow gives us opportunities to discover the call and act on it – assuming we are paying attention and also assuming there are mentors who point the way for us. This message deserves a rating of 4 Message points out of 5.
The Kid Who Would Be King had a good chance of being trifling fluff. But this updated King Arthur legend restores the luster to an aging trope. Even the modern retellings for adults are not a good as this film (with the exception of the classic 1981 Excalibur). It was a story told with love, whimsy, and skill. I’m even more impressed with this than the first Harry Potter film. I give it 4 out of 5 Reels.
Scott, you’ve expertly laid out the hero’s journey and mapped it back to Campbell’s teachings. I want to reiterate the fact that this film let’s children know that the King Arthur legend still resonates today. I give Alex and friends 5 out of 5 Heroes.
Finally, the message that we are all heroes waiting to find our path is close to my heart and at the center of the new study of Hero Science. I give this message 5 out of 5 Message points.