Legend tells of a time when King Arthur rose up to take command, uniting Britain under his tutelage, making enemies into friends, and overcoming the forces of evil, but when he died, the land went into disarray as his rival, Morgana Le Fay (Rebecca Ferguson) swore to return to rule over the chaos to come in the future. Not if Merlin (Patrick Stewart and Angus Imrie) had anything to do with it, but he had been pitted against Morgana before, and when she was at her most powerful, only the sword Excalibur was able to better her. Yet what does this have to do with put upon twenty-first century schoolboy Alex (Louis Ashbourne Serkis), who is suffering his own crisis at the moment?
King Arthur movies never seem to go out of fashion, or at least they do not with filmmakers, for with audiences it can be a different matter. The Kid Who Would Be King was writer and director Joe Cornish's attempt at an Arthurian blockbuster, yet like Guy Ritchie not so long before him he discovered there was not much of an appetite for revamps of the legend, and his efforts turned into one of the biggest flops of the year. Nevertheless, some did respond well, and suggested a cult following was about the best it could hope for, which is better than nothing but not exactly what Disney would have wanted when they inherited the movie's parent studio 20th Century Fox.
This indicated that taking a chance on a wacky proposition was not going to be the preferred choice for major money makers in the entertainment industry, and while this was not part of a franchise and banked on the goodwill towards the myths that made it act like a franchise reboot, there was not so much enthusiasm in the industry at this point in time for original concepts, and more reliance on those aforementioned franchises. You could also observe this example was aiming for the Harry Potter audience given it stuck fairly close to the template of the J.K. Rowling successes, but again, as with other attempts to embark on a similar series of films, it was doomed to failure for some reason.
Though Cornish did not strictly base this on a book (it did, however, echo the T.H. White novels on the same subject, as tackled in Disney's The Sword in the Stone), The Kid Who Would Be King came across as feeling like it was an adaptation of a Y.A. novel. He did say he wanted to update the Children's Film Foundation items of his own youth, though the results were twice as long as those and could have paid for the whole decades-long production run with its entire budget, yet time had moved on and perhaps it was significant the children's entertainment of the past had become a nostalgia industry rather than something shiny and new. The nineteen-eighties had turned into the touchstone for filmmakers trying to appeal to general audiences in this era, harking back to the stuff they in particular enjoyed as kids.
Still, if this made it to the right platforms you could imagine it making more of an impression in years afterwards even if not enough were bowled over on its initial release. The trouble was, it was all far too straightforward - obviously kids would not want anything too complex or you would lose them, but Potter had become a soap opera of twists and in the main they kept up with that more than adequately. Really, once the premise was sorted out and Alex had drawn Excalibur from a stone uncovered on a building site, it was a matter of assembling his knights (as in Attack the Block, there was redemption for initially unpleasant characters), dragging out what was supposed to happen from Merlin (Imrie was probably the biggest scene stealer here) and conquering Morgana (Ferguson doing her best with a largely CGI-ridden performance). That was about it, and two hours really made a meal of what should have been ninety minutes, but it was amusing overall, just underwhelming once it was over. Also: no breastplates on the armour? Foolhardy, no? Music by Electric Wave Bureau.