I should start by going on record as saying that one of my favorite moments in Aquaman was at the end when someone says “Hail, King Arthur!” While the world of Middle Earth is key for me, the world of Arthur’s England isn’t too far behind.
Joe Cornish’s The Kid Who Would Be King really is one of the best movies you might see these days. It is smart, simple, and practices a kind of restraint that you don’t often experience with contemporary fantasy cinema. From the moment the movie begins with an animated retelling of the King Arthur legend to a closing moment that echoes it, the movie wastes no time in telling a medieval tale with an appropriately modern twist.
One of the best things the movie has going for it is that it’s the closest we’ve gotten to The Lord of the Rings in many a-year. Some of that is a matter of cinematography: the movie’s beautiful vista shots are part of the reason why I love traveling to broad, green places. This movie does that wonderfully. Beyond that, there are some story moments that resemble some great LOTR moments. But those LOTR moments are great because they are almost-primal moments handled well (mostly moments of fear and being afraid in dark places, really). This movie is also closer to LOTR in the handling of relationships, particularly with comradery and friendship.
Something else that sets the movie apart from much of the herd these days is that it does a great job earning its ending. I don’t want to give anything away here, but it does its own kind of Never-ending Story ending (only moreso). Things play out almost seamlessly in a way that doesn’t just feel like a “boss level” confrontation at the end has to play out. It’s actually a tricky move, one that requires the restraint that I mentioned earlier.
There is a political dimension to the movie that is almost part-and-parcel of any ideological undertaking these days. You can’t talk King Arthur without talking about hope and loss and leadership. This is another place where the movie’s restraint works well. It tries to settle on something like a universal “truth” about leading well . . . and the things that leading well requires. For young Alexander, the movie’s protagonist, leading well first and foremost involves living by the chivalric code. And so even though Merlin might think that “his time is done,” that’s not quite true. In fact, even the overly-used trope of “everything you need you already have” doesn’t quite ring true because of the book that Alexander keeps in his bag and holds in his hands.
Speaking of Merlin . . . or Merton . . . the cast is quite good. It’s not easy casting young actors, I imagine. But the key quartet of the show blend together nicely. It’s good to watch a movie where character can actually develop (and without requiring a sequel). Plus there’s one pleasant surprise in the casting . . . at least it was a surprise to me, as I hadn’t actually seen any trailers for the movie before going in.
The Kid Who Would Be King is the first movie in a good while that kind of makes me want to see it a second time in the theater, if only for the good handling of people traversing beautiful landscapes. There are also a few gags that just work out really well. I highly recommend the movie to people who enjoy children’s movies, and movies in general, done well.
(image from polygon.com)