The 1980s were littered with movies about quests. Most of these were pretty bad, but a lot of them have endured on nostalgia alone. I'm not immune. I was obsessed with The NeverEnding Story and still hold a completely non-objective love for it. The Kid Who Would Be King is clearly made for kids who grew up on those films and now have kids of their own.
Made with a panache missing from other attempts at modern quest movies like Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Joe Cornish directs for the first time since his entertaining debut Attack the Block. In a sea of nondescript blockbusters, Cornish stands out with tactile set pieces, even when the bad guys are CGI.
Louis Ashbourne Serkis (son of Andy) takes the lead as Alex, who's above the bottom rung of the social ladder at school, but not by much. He's best friends with Bedders (Dean Chaumoo), but wishes he would try harder to be invisible, so as not to attract the attention of the school bullies (Tom Taylor and Rhianna Dorris).
When fleeing from them one night, he hides at an abandoned construction site, discovering and unsheathing the mythical Excalibur. This sets into motion the convoluted plot, including the awakening of the evil Morgana (Rebecca Ferguson) and the arrival of Merlin (Patrick Stewart). Adding to the complications, Merlin often disguises himself as a fellow kid, played magnetically by Angus Imrie.
There's far too much going on The Kid Who Would Be King, but it takes itself seriously. Its subtext, touching on themes of parental abandonment and the divided political landscape, is far more interesting than the Arthurian legend stuff.
But the film also looks fantastic. The cast members really are at Stonehenge and racing through London streets. Sure, some of it is filmed on sets, but unlike a lot of superhero films, they don't feel indistinguishable from one another.
We surely didn't need another King Arthur movie, or another quest for a "goober" (as so perfectly put in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse), but Joe Cornish has made a handsome, entertaining one. Hopefully next time, we won't have to wait so long for him to make another.