Review of “The Kid Who Would Be King”

Alex Elliot (Louis Ashbourne Serkis) and his friend Bedders (Dean Chaumoo) are the targets of bullies in their school. Lance (Tom Taylor) and Kaye (Rhianna Doris) target the younger and smaller kids, stealing their money and punching them. Alex stands up to them and is facing expulsion for tackling Lance. Alex and his single mom Mary (Denise Gough) have been going it alone since Alex’s dad left. Mary tells Alex he was fighting his demons and couldn’t be around them. Running from Lance and Kaye after school, Alex hides in a construction site of a building being demolished. There he finds a sword stuck in a partially demolished column and pulls it out. He shows it to Bedders and they put the writing on the hilt into Google translate, discovering it says “Sword of Arthur.” Believing it is the legendary sword Excalibur, Alex hides it in his closet, so his mother doesn’t take it away. Meanwhile, the evil sorceress Morgana (Rebecca Ferguson), imprisoned deep in the earth centuries earlier, is aware the sword has been found and begins gathering her strength to return to a world that is lost in darkness, despair and anger. The wizard Merlin (as a young man, Angus Imrie/as an old man, Patrick Stewart) has also felt the discovery of Excalibur and has returned through a portal located at Stonehenge. He pretends to be a student at Alex’s school to keep an eye on him. When Merlin discovers there are only four days to a total solar eclipse, he announces to everyone that Morgana and her army of undead skeleton soldiers will return to take over Britain and the world and that Alex is the Once and Future King. Soon, Alex, Bedders and the reluctant Lance and Kaye begin an adventure to fight off evil and save the world.

“The Kid Who Would Be King” is the ultimate fantasy kid’s movie. The hero is a child of meager means, not physically imposing, with few friends and missing his absent father. His best friend is a fat kid that is afraid of everything and doesn’t like breaking rules. The other kids on the quest are his enemies that he reluctantly takes on as allies so they can see the threat they face. There’s also a loopy wizard that changes into an owl when he sneezes and can’t be out after dark as it weakens him. It’s up to Alex, the kid with no leg up in life, to save the world whether he wants to or not. It stretches credibility and runs on a bit too long, but “The Kid Who Would Be King” deserves your patronage and loyalty.

Louis Ashbourne Serkis is the son of motion-capture king and actor Andy Serkis, best known as Gollum in the “Lord of the Rings” and “Hobbit” films, Caesar in “The Planet of the Apes” trilogy, King Kong in Peter Jackson’s film of the same name and as the Marvel villain Ulysses Klaue in the MCU. He comes from a very active acting family and young Serkis clearly has inherited the performance gene. Serkis is an emotive young actor, his performance coming as much from his facial expressions as from his voice. Alex is dealing with a great deal of pain and loss and Serkis shows that without it being too melancholy or melodramatic. Serkis is a natural performer and is relatable to the target audience of children while not being annoying to the adults that brought them. It is a pleasing performance that works well within the insanity of the story.

The rest of the cast is great with Dean Chaumoo as a standout as Bedders. The insecure child constantly questioning whether what they are doing is the right thing borders on being annoying, but the story is guiding us down that path, leading to a confrontation between the two best friends that reshapes their relationship. It’s a simple and wide-eyed performance that is the only credit on his IMDb page. I thought he probably had done live theater in Britain, but a Google search of his name only turns up a page from King’s College School in Wimbledon announcing his getting the part with no reference to any other acting. If this is his first ever role, he should be congratulated for giving such a good performance.

Another great performance is Angus Imrie as the young Merlin. He’s all enthusiasm and energy as the wizard that gets younger as he ages (Patrick Stewart appears a few times as an elderly version of Merlin). Merlin is the comic relief of the film. His wild hand gestures as he’s performing a spell seem like an opportunity for anyone wanting to stop him to punch him in the face. No one does as that would bring an unwelcome bit of reality to the story. Since the movie is about knights and demons and wizards and sorceresses, no one wants the real world to interfere. Imrie is a joy when he’s on screen. His apparent love for the role (possibly acting in general) shines through the screen and he adds just a little bit of extra spark to a film that is already filled with energy.

While is said no one wants reality to interfere with the film, sadly my middle-aged brain wouldn’t let some things go. For instance, when Morgana sends her evil undead soldiers to attack the kids at night, only the people Alex has knighted can see them and the rest of the people in the world disappear, leaving all their possessions where they were, including their cars. A scene in the film finds the kids fighting the undead knights using a car then, when the last one is beaten, all the people return, including the people in the car the kids were using. It’s a reality-bending bit of world building that ignores the real-world consequences. The film does that a great deal, including for Alex to succeed, he must kill Morgana. That’s a heavy burden to put on a kid who isn’t old enough to drive. The children of Alex’s school must battle the undead army. No consideration is given to if any of them will be hurt or killed. It’s a minor issue I have with the film, but it feels like something that could have added a bit of depth to what is otherwise a light kids adventure story.

“The Kid Who Would Be King” is rated PG for fantasy action violence, scary images, thematic elements including some bullying, and language. The kids battle the undead army, trees that come to life, underground roots and a couple of fire-breathing dragons. Lance and Kaye are shown bullying Alex and Bedders on a couple of occasions. The reality of an absentee father and the reasons for his being gone are briefly explored. Foul language is mild and very scattered.

The movie takes its time in guiding Alex and his knights through their adventure. The missing dad is revisited one time too many and the consequences of abandonment are hammered into the audience unabated. We get it! Stay and raise you kids! Otherwise, “The Kid Who Would Be King” is a fun and lighthearted romp that children will love, and their parents will find entertaining enough. It’s silly and funny with likable characters and a good message. And remember: Always follow the chivalric code! It will see you through life and serve you well.

“The Kid Who Would Be King” gets five stars.

With only one new wide release, I’ll also possibly check out some new arthouse films. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

In Like Flynn—

Miss Bala—

Stan and Ollie—

Listen to The Fractured Frame for movie, TV and streaming news, available wherever you get podcasts. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.

Review of “The Dark Tower”

Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) is a teenager growing up in New York City. His dad was a fireman killed on the job and his mom has remarried. Jake has been having vivid dreams about a world at war, about a Man in Black, a Gunslinger, weird looking creatures, children strapped into a machine and being used as a power source for a directed energy weapon and a Dark Tower. Jake draws what he sees in his dreams and is obsessed with the images. It’s causing trouble at home and at school. Jake’s psychiatrist tries to convince him they are only dreams caused by the stress of his dad’s death but he is certain they are something more…something real. His parents plan on sending Jake to a weekend evaluation at a mental hospital but Jake doesn’t trust the two people sent to pick him up and he runs away. While on the run, Jake finds a house that looks like one he’s seen in his dreams. It’s abandoned and he breaks in. Walking down the hall, Jake hears a voice asking where he wants to go. It’s coming from a console built into the wall. Jake has seen the numbers “19-19” in his dreams and enters that on a keypad. A portal opens up in the wall that looks like it goes to another world. Jake enters and finds himself on an arid plain and sees two moons in the sky overhead. Jake walks until he finds a smoldering campfire where he comes face to face with the Roland the Gunslinger (Idris Elba). Not trusting him at first, the Gunslinger tells Jake to go away but Jake persists mentioning the Man in Black. The Gunslinger threatens Jake, accusing him of being an illusion. Jake shows his drawings to him and the Gunslinger suggests they go to a nearby village to allow a seer to interpret his dreams. Meanwhile, Walter, the Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey), is searching for a special child; one that can power a weapon to bring down the Dark Tower that separates all the parallel Earths from one another and also blocks out monsters that live at the fringes of the Universe. If the Dark Tower falls the monsters will overrun all the Earths and the Man in Black will rule over a kingdom of destruction. Jake’s travel from his home to this other world has not gone unnoticed and the Man in Black discovers Jake is the perfect child to power his weapon. Now Jake and the Gunslinger must find a way to prevent the Man in Black from succeeding in his plan to destroy all the Earths in the Universe.

Based on “The Dark Tower” series of books from author Stephen King, this movie isn’t exactly taken from any specific book; but is a collection of ideas composed into a film. Fans of the books may balk at the idea this movie is more of an impression of the much loved series. Those of us that haven’t read the books may actually find the film flawed but fairly entertaining.

When dealing with a story that takes place through eight books, 4,250 pages and 1,334,631 words, it seems an impossible task to distill all those ideas and characters down into one 95-minute movie. Fortunately, the makers of “The Dark Tower” didn’t even try to do that. This film, I believe, is designed to give the audience a taste of the grand mythology King created and to instill a desire to learn more about all the various Earths and the heroes and villains that populate them. If that is the idea then “The Dark Tower” is a success. I enjoyed learning of Keystone Earth and Mid-World, the war the Man in Black won against the gunslingers including Roland and his father and the idea that magic is a powerful force in some of these worlds. It is a colorful universe that obviously has a great deal more to offer and I hope to get a chance to see what it might serve up in future editions.

“The Dark Tower” is far from perfect. The story feels like it’s in a huge hurry to get from point to point at the expense of a clear narrative. Writers Akiva Goldsman, Jeff Pinkner, Anders Thomas Jensen and director Nikolaj Arcel seem to be taking for granted that we’ll catch up on details in future projects and they don’t need to worry with a lot of details in this outing. I would have liked to be a bit more informed about what’s happening as it’s happening but the script just wants to steamroll on through and let you catch up on your own time. That makes a huge assumption that we’ll be waiting with anticipation for the proposed companion TV show slated for release in 2018 or that we’ll pick up the books and plow through King’s often dense and complicated prose. That assumption could sink this multi-platform franchise right off the bat.

The movie also makes some quick emotional turns that aren’t supported by the story. Jake at one point seems to rebel against the Gunslinger and his mission after making a discovery back on his Earth. That emotional U-turn is just as quickly reversed after a little target practice and the reciting of the Gunslinger’s Oath. It all rings hollow as both Jake’s change and the Gunslinger’s remedy feel out of left field. Both of these should have been emotional high points. Instead they are treated as afterthoughts or like common, everyday events. The lightning pace of the story doesn’t leave much room for us to get to know these characters other than the very basics and these two scenes deserved more set up and examination.

While neither of their characters is written up to their talents, both Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey turn in fine performances. Elba’s Gunslinger is a reluctant hero on a mission to avenge the death of his father. This is his singular goal and saving the Tower is merely the consequence of killing the Man in Black. It’s a measured performance that isn’t flashy but still remains powerful.

McConaughey seems to be enjoying his role as the Man in Black. He’s all flair and is known by all those that worship him as a deadly force. He’s full of himself and has every right to be as he is a powerful sorcerer able to control the minds of anyone he chooses, except Roland. This vexes him but he’s happy to kill everyone the Gunslinger loves instead. McConaughey makes a formidable villain and would be wise to play more of them.

“The Dark Tower” is rated PG-13 for thematic material including sequences of gun violence and action. Numerous people are shot but there is very little blood. A giant bug-like creature attacks Roland and Jake impaling Roland against a tree. People are shown being slashed by swords but again there is very little blood. A character is shown getting a nose bleed as they are subjected to psychic torture by the Man in Black. A couple of people are shown dying by the Man in Black telling them to stop breathing. Children are strapped into a machine to power a weapon. The powering of the weapon causes the children to scream in pain.

“The Dark Tower” franchise is designed to include TV shows as well as movies. A prequel series to fill in the backstory of the film is scheduled to air sometime in 2018 and sequel films are on the drawing board. Some or all of these plans may be at risk if this film doesn’t deliver a big enough return at the box office. A domestic projected opening weekend take of $19-million doesn’t bode well for a return trip to Mid-Earth but we’ll have to wait and see how the rest of the world reacts to this latest Stephen King adaption. If you don’t like this one, the “It” movie comes out in a month.

“The Dark Tower” gets four stars out of five.

A horror sequel, a family drama and an animated sequel are opening at a theatre near you this week. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

Annabelle: Creation—

The Glass Castle—

The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature—

Listen to my new podcast, The Fractured Frame, you can hear it here: http://wimz.com/podcasts/the-fractured-frame/

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.