The Kid Who Would Be King

Cast: Louis Ashbourne Serkis, Tom Taylor, Denise Gough, Rebecca Ferguson, Patrick Stewart

Director: Joe Cornish

Writer: Joe Cornish


We live in increasingly cynical times and the idea that a noble medieval king like Arthur could possibly solve the innumerable problems facing the UK today in the age of Brexit is quite laughable. Yet that is in a sense what Joe Cornish’s newest film is about and with it he invites the viewer to consider the world as it is not through the wearied, sceptical eyes of an adult but through the innocent, eager eyes of a child. It harkens to a mythical time in Britain’s history when the whole country was united under the benevolent rule of a hero among men. In a short, animated prologue the film details the particulars of Arthur’s rule, taking care to emphasise that it was not his ability to slay monsters that made him a great king. What made Arthur a figure of such reverence was the chivalric code by which he upheld the principles of justice, honesty and honour. This was a king who treated his trusted knights as his equals, who made friends of his enemies and who inspired hope and unity in all who followed him. The legacy of Camelot has long since been lost to the world but will soon be unearthed once again by a pair of unlikely pre-teens living in contemporary London.

The Kid Who Would Be King is set in a world where everything is bad (“WAR! GLOOM! FEAR! CRISIS!” read the headlines on a local newsstand) and everyone has more or less resigned themselves to the prospect of a doomed future. The 12-year-old Alex (Louis Ashbourne Serkis) is all too familiar with the struggles of living in a world where the strong freely prey on the weak as he and his best mate Bedders (Dean Chaumoo) are bullied at school. Living with his exasperated mother Mary (Denise Gough), struggling to make ends meet in the absence of the boy’s father, Alex identifies strongly with the likes of Harry Potter, Frodo Baggins and Luke Skywalker, all of them orphans dreaming of adventure and destined to become great heroes. His favourite book as a young boy, as a matter of fact, was the anthology of Arthurian fables that his father left him before disappearing. On one fateful day as Alex and Bedders are being chased by their local bullies Lance (Tom Taylor) and Kaye (Rhianna Dorris), they stumble into a building site where they find an ancient sword sticking out of a solid concrete block. Alex pulls the sword out of the stone with ease, leading the two boys to conclude that this must be the legendary sword of Excalibur and that fate has decreed they must embark on some great quest in order to save Britain.

Soon Alex is visited by the great wizard Merlin (Angus Imrie), who appears in the form of a teenager and poses as a pupil at the boys’ school under the cunning pseudonym of ‘Mertin’. An eccentric figure who’s liable to transform into an owl or his older self (played by Patrick Stewart) when he sneezes, he reveals to Alex and Bedders that the return of the evil sorceress Morgana (Rebecca Ferguson), Arthur’s greatest enemy, is imminent. It is Alex’s destiny to take his place as the king the country desperately needs right now and to vanquish Morgana before she can rise with her minions and unleash her wrath on the world. Suspecting that his estranged father might have a role to play in all this, Alex resolves to set out for Tintagel, the last place the two of them met and the supposed birth place of Arthur himself. Joining him on this quest, as well as Bedders and Merlin, are Lance and Kaye, whom Alex knights so that they might redeem themselves and help save Britain from peril. Along the way Merlin trains them in the ways of the greats knights of yore and presses upon them the chivalric code and its tenets of bravery, decency, and honour. If the kids fail to stand by this code and follow it to the letter, then their quest is already lost.

While there is plenty of action along the way, it should be clear from the word go that The Kid Who Would Be King is not a high-concept epic fantasy on the level of The Lord of the Rings. It’s more like if The Goonies or Stand By Me were made today and included a fair few moderate action scenes with modest special effects. This isn’t to say that we don’t get some sense of the grand scale and threatening stakes of the adventure they’ve embarked upon. Cornish treats us to sweeping shots of the English countryside, has the fellowship do battle with animated trees and CGI skeletons on horseback and there is even a climatic siege where the weathered fortress of Helm’s Deep is replaced with a London secondary school. Far from threatening to overwhelm frame after frame with endless masses of CGI like most of the blockbusters you’re likely to see these days, Cornish keeps things simple and clean and the film is stronger for it. It’s a style that enables them to emulate the heroic fantasies that the tale of King Arthur helped inspire while still allowing them to keep things light-hearted and childishly playful; more Narnia than Middle Earth.

The action doesn’t really matter so much as the quest itself. The film is, more than anything, about Alex’s journey of self-discovery. What makes this story work in an era where modernised takes on the Arthurian myth continuously fail (remember Legend of the Sword?) is the way in which it draws new morals from the old, familiar tales. For one thing, the film drops the feudalistic notion that nobility and greatness is borne from one’s birth. In the end it isn’t Alex’s blood or his parentage that makes him great, it’s the lessons that he learns on his journey and that fellowship he builds with his brothers and sisters in arms along the way. The movie is a celebration of community and its ability to overcome any threat through unity and co-operation. The ensemble, many of whom were young and untested actors as were those in Cornish’s previous film Attack the Block, do wonders to sell the idea as well as the fantasy of it all. I especially liked Chaumoo, who I think is destined to deliver a Samwise Gamgee performance for the ages one of these days, and Imrie, who commits to his role wholeheartedly. Together they’ve made a highly charming and enjoyable film and, while it’s still unlikely to solve the world’s problems, it can at least provide a couple of hours of escape and that’s nothing to turn your nose up at.

★★★★

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Ant-Man

Cast: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Corey Stoll, Bobby Cannavale, Michael Peña, Tip “T.I.” Harris, Wood Harris, David Dastmalchian, Michael Douglas

Director: Peyton Reed,

Writers: Edgar Wright, Joe Cornish, Adam McKay, Paul Rudd


As big a fan as I am of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I wasn’t expecting much from Ant-Man. Even after watching the trailer I still wasn’t convinced by the idea of a superhero whose power was shrinking to the size of an ant. I had faith in Marvel’s ability to turn this film into a decent flick but I wasn’t expecting anything spectacular. I think the filmmakers must have realised that Ant-Man was quite a silly concept for a film and so they wisely embraced that by making it one of their funnier, more unconventional films. This is both a strength and a weakness in this instance as Ant-Man proves to be an enjoyable if otherwise unexceptional film. It stands as something of an oddity in the MCU (in a good way) as it provides a hero and a concept unlike anything we’ve seen in this franchise. I think it’s fair to say that I enjoyed this film more than I thought I would, but I still don’t think it left that much of an impression on me. It is a decent film, but not one of Marvel’s best.

Upon being released from prison Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), a well-intentioned thief, is determined to turn his life around so that he might be allowed to see more of his daughter. He tries to build a legitimate life for himself with the help of his fried Luis (Michael Peña) but finds that few people, least of all his ex-wife Maggie (Judy Greer) and her cop husband Paxton (Bobby Cannavale), are willing to give him a second chance. He is presently approached by Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) who wants to recruit him for a special job. Pym reveals that he has unlocked the secrets to shrinking people and objects and has harnessed that technology into a special suit. This is the suit that will allow Scott the power he needs to become the Ant-Man. Under the training of Pym and his daughter Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly), Scott prepares for a heist that will prevent Pym’s former protégé Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) from unlocking the secrets to the shrinking technology, a development that Pym feels would have disastrous consequences for the world.

There were a lot of things I enjoyed about this film and one of them was the main character. Casting Paul Rudd as Scott Lang was a stroke of genius. As well as bringing much charm and humour to the role, I like how down-to-earth and relatable he turned out to be. Of all the superheroes in the MCU, Scott is probably the closest they have to an everyman (except perhaps Hawkeye) and so I’m glad that they chose a normal guy to play the role as opposed to a buff, handsome Hollywood superstar. The film also had some great comic moments as it decided to have fun with the aspects of its story that would otherwise have been difficult to take seriously. Some of its funniest moments were provided by Michael Peña as the blissfully incoherent Luis. Scott’s training as Ant-Man was well done, in large part due to Michael Douglas who did an expert job of selling Ant-Man as a concept. Watching Scott master the shrinking technology and learning to command the different types of ants to serve their differing functions turned out to be the most enjoyable part of the film for me.

The two main characters who simply didn’t register with me were Hope van Dyne and Darren Cross. The former is a typically underwritten female love-interest who sometimes throws a few punches and the latter is a pretty forgettable villain. Both of their actors brought what they could to the roles but there simply wasn’t much for them to work with. While the comedy may have provided the film with many entertaining highlights, there is a significant downside as well. The comical tone the film decided to go with meant that I sometimes had a hard time taking it seriously when it was actually called for. With the exception of one scene at the end, I never really felt like there was a clear and present danger in this film nor did I ever really feel the stakes of what was happening. At times when an action scene was taking place, it would suddenly be interrupted by some sort of gag that, while funny, felt a bit disjointed. It may not have been out of place with the film’s tone but I did think that it stole from the excitement and thrills that the film was trying to provide.

Ant-Man may not be Marvel’s best film but it isn’t the worst either. The dispute that resulted in Edgar Wright leaving the project might explain why the film felt a bit disjointed but I still think Peyton Reed did a decent job of pulling it together. The film may not be as exciting as Marvel’s other offerings but it is never boring either. What the film lacks in thrills it makes up for in fun and humour. It is lacking in character and doesn’t have the best executed story but is still very enjoyable for all that it does offer. It took an idea that could have very easily been done terribly or ridiculously and instead pulls it off quite admirably. Ant-Man is a creative, funny and entertaining film that should please any Marvel fan or simply any moviegoer looking for a fun action film.

★★★★