There probably isn’t a kid out there who hasn’t thought about what it might be like to wield Excalibur. The sword of the heroic King Arthur and one that granted the user magical powers and/or rule over a nation, there’s something truly heroic about fielding such a iconic symbol and harnessing its powers for good. Then again, maybe it’s the swords of He-Man, Lion-O, Jon Snow or Aragorn that tickle your fancy, but it’s Arthur’s blade that takes centre stage in Joe Cornish’s anticipated film which gives the tale a modern twist and it’s safe to say that this is no King Arthur: Legend of the Sword.
From Camelot, we ride to a small London town where Alex (Serkis) lives with Mum (Denise Gough) amid growing political problems and government unrest (isn’t it always these days?) and having to fend off a pair of bullies (Tom Taylor and Rhianna Dorris) who just won’t quit. After one such encounter, he flees to an abandoned building site where he discovers a sword encased in a huge part of the fallen build. Releasing it, it soon sets Alex, his friend Bedders (Dean Chaumoo) and Merlin (Angus Imrie) on a quest to find his long-long father – and a date with destiny in the form of the evil Morganna (a suited snarly Rebecca Ferguson).
After his breakout hit Attack the Block, Cornish has taken his time for his next venture, whether it’s a question of time and financing or still feeling slightly raw over his and Edgar Wright’s experiences of Ant-Man, but he’s return with the same energy and while TKWWBK is a softer, slightly less polished affair, there’s still much to enjoy. For the most part, this feels very much a product of 1980’s fantasy films, echoing such classic as The Goonies, The Princess Bride, E.T and, yes, even Masters of the Universe given its more “modern-day Earth” slant (maybe clutching at straws but it’s in there). Indeed, like those mentioned this is an ode to the power of friendship and how two is better than, four better than two, and how we can overcome any obstacle with our friends holding us up, no matter how outlandish the problem.
It’s not without faults, however: Sir Patrick Stewart’s appearance as an older Merlin feels more of token than anything substantial, and while Ferguson is as good as ever, you leave pleading for a lot more from her. Indeed, anyone looking for some standout action set-pieces might be underserved here – some work fine but there’s never enough pizzaz to really make them electrify the screen in a way the story deserves.
While there may be slim pickings for anyone over 21, The Kid Who Would Be King is a timely reminder of the talent processed by writer/director Joe Cornish and if he can channel his humour and characters with something a little broader in scope, he could become one of our best purveyors of pure entertainment over the next decade. There’s plenty to enjoy here, while not being completely memorable.