A disappointing misfire, The Kid Who Would Be King follows Louis Ashbourne Serkis’ Alex as he and several friends (and bullies) must band together to stop an ancient evil from taking over the planet. There’s little doubt that The Kid Who Would Be King fares best in its fast-paced and enjoyably broad-minded opening stretch, as writer/director Joe Cornish does a superb job of instantly drawing the viewer into the larger-than-life proceedings and establishing a whole raft of appealing, affable characters – with Serkis’ charismatic work matched by a strong cast that includes Rebecca Ferguson, Patrick Stewart, and Angus Imrie. (The latter, playing a young Merlin, delivers a scene-stealing turn that remains an ongoing highlight.) It’s only as the picture progresses into its increasingly (and distressingly) sluggish midsection that one’s interest begins to flag, as Cornish floods the narrative with a whole host of entirely needless subplots that effectively wreak havoc on the already-tenuous momentum. (There is, for example, an exceedingly tedious thread involving Alex’s efforts at winning over a bully.) The presence of a fake-out conclusion certainly exacerbates the progressively tiresome atmosphere, and it goes without saying that the real climax, full of unconvincing, headache-inducing special effects, is hardly the exciting, enthralling capper Cornish has surely intended. The end result is a disaster that could (and should) have been trimmed down from its over two-hour running time, with the movie’s failure especially disheartening given the palpable promise of Cornish’s debut feature (2011’s Attack the Block).
*1/2 out of ****