The Reelist is a column featuring Kristen Page-Kirby’s musings on movies. For Washington Post film critic Pat Padua’s review of “The Kid Who Would Be King,” click here.
There’s a lot to love about “The Kid Who Would Be King.” Actually, there’s everything to love about “The Kid Who Would Be King.” Especially its message.
In writer-director Joe Cornish’s follow-up to his 2011 sci-fi blast “Attack the Block,” 12-year-old Alex (Louis Ashbourne Serkis, in an utterly wonderful performance) is a good kid. He’s bullied at school, but he stands up for those kids who get it worse. One night, while fleeing his tormentors, he finds a sword stuck in a stone. He tries to remove it, fails, the movie ends.
That’s a little joke.
Of course, Alex frees the sword and receives his quest: Save the world. It seems that Excalibur has reappeared to aid the one who will lead the fight against Morgana (Rebecca Ferguson) when she rises again. She’s been waiting for the world to become divided and leaderless, and boy, did she pick the right time to come back. Alex and a few of his friends are the ones who must go up against her because the crappiness of modern times hasn’t yet corrupted them — they still have hope.
Those who know some version of the original legend — whether it’s from reading “Le Morte d’Arthur” or from seeing “Camelot” or “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” — will be able to pick up on some incredibly clever allusions to the myth. Merlin is there, of course, aging backward as always; there’s a Lance and a Kay (though it’s Kaye here) on his team; and there’s an arcade called Camelslots, which sounds kind of dirty but let’s pretend it doesn’t because that’s really funny.
At the core of “The Kid Who Would Be King” are the same messages found at the core of the Arthurian legend: Stand up for the weak. See others as equals. Act with honor. All things that kids must do if they’re going to change the world and all things they can do if we would just stop screwing them up.
Kids start out being kind; we teach them that some people aren’t worthy of kindness. Kids start out courageous; we teach them to play it safe (obviously, “courageous” can also be “stupidly dangerous and resulting in dental bills,” so here we’re talking about the courage to take on tough tasks, not the courage that prompts them to see if they can fly). Kids start out creative; we make sure they color inside all sorts of lines.
“The Kid Who Would Be King” rests on hope and issues a challenge not only to the kids in the audience, but to those who drove them to the theater: The children will be the ones to fight the environmental, political and moral battles we are walking away from. Are we arming them with the weapons they’ll need to win?