The Kid Who Would Be King—The title is a play on Kipling, but the story of this Brit fantasy is another variation on The Sword and the Stone. It’s Sword and the Stone updated, that is, and mixed with a bit of Harry Potter and Boorman’s Excalibur and a cheeky dash of the John Hughes comedy Weird Science.
Our hero is Alex (Louis Ashbourne Serkis), a chubby-cheeked, earnest public schoolboy who would like to fit in and be popular, but who feels duty-bound to stick up for victims of bullying like his pal Bedders (Dean Chaumoo). Alex finds a sword sticking in stone in a construction site near his suburban home, and sure enough, he’s able to pull it out and wield it. Before long a teenage version of Merlin (Angus Imrie) materializes out of Stonehenge and shows up at Alex’s school to help him.
Alex and Bedders need the help, as it turns out, because the demonic Morgana (Rebecca Ferguson; impressive) is about to arise from the netherworld and lead an army of undead knights to take over England. So they recruit more allies—a couple of the bullies who torment them at school—and head to Cornwall in search of Alex’s long-absent dad, who they believe links him to the line of Arthur.
Though I was quite entertained by the first half of The Kid Who Would Be King, I also felt my usual irritation at how the film seemed to be perpetuating that same stuff about bloodlines and birthrights and “chosen ones” that has persisted, so unnecessarily, in so much modern fantasy storytelling, from Star Wars to The Lion King to The Matrix. Then around mid-point, writer-director Joe Cornish (the man behind 2011’s terrific teens-vs.-aliens saga Attack the Block) upends all these expectations and throws them out; speaking through a more mature incarnation of Merlin (Patrick Stewart), he reminds us that legends are made to be rewritten. From that point on, it’s like Cornish has opened a window and let fresh air into the movie.
Certainly this isn’t the best Arthurian film of all time; that distinction must go to Monty Python and the Holy Grail. But Kid Who Would Be King is an agreeable adolescent fairy tale, with atmospheric location work in places like Tintagel and Glastonbury Tor, as well as way-out battle scenes that recall the Harryhausen movies. The whole cast is proficient, but there’s an obvious standout; Angus Imrie has a splendidly genial, confident nuttiness as the young Merlin. And a gag connected to him, involving fast-food chicken, is probably the best joke in the movie.
Opening in wide release.
In Like Flynn—There’s been some grumbling about the historical liberties taken in Stan & Ollie, the Laurel and Hardy biopic released here a couple of weeks ago. Now we get another dubious version of the life of a legendary movie star, this time Errol Flynn. But at least this one is based on Flynn’s own tall tales.
Adapted from his 1937 book Beam Ends—his grandson Luke Flynn is among the credited screenwriters—this Australian production calls itself “a mostly true account of the Hollywood star’s early adventures.” We’re shown the young Tasmanian, in his pre-movie days, fleeing natives in Papua New Guinea, doped in opium dens, brawling in brothels, bare-knuckles boxing, dodging gangsters and so forth, all strung along his cruise on an appropriated yacht, in search of gold with a trio of loyal comrades.
“Mostly true” seems pretty generous, and in any case the direction, by Russell Mulcahy of the original Highlander and countless ’80s-era music videos, is hilariously overblown. But within that silly idiom, Mulcahy executes the action scenes skillfully, and the movie is sort of fun to watch, as a loving throwback to the Raiders of the Lost Ark/Romancing the Stone genre.
The title character is played by a handsome, lithely built young Aussie named Thomas Cocquerel. He isn’t terrible, but he has, it need hardly be said, not one-twentieth of the roguish yet companionable and slyly self-deprecating charm of the guy he’s playing. Who, besides Flynn himself, ever has?
Opening exclusively at AMC Arizona Center 24 and AMC Ahwatukee 24.