WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Joe Cornish's The Kid Who Would Be King, in theaters now.
The Kid Who Would Be King does more than merely transplant elements from the King Arthur legend into the present day. By introducing new characters with connections to centuries-old archetypes, writer/director Joe Cornish forges something both fresh and familiar. By the end of the fantasy adventure, magic has found a new place in the modern world.
English schoolboy Alex Elliot and his friends must go to war against Morgana le Fey, rally an army to stand against her mystical forces, and find the strength in themselves to be better people. And, while that battle is ultimately decided, it still leaves the door open for a return to the film's setting and characters.
After spending most of the film at odds, the world-saving adventure cements the bond between Alex and Bedders and their former bullies Lance and Kaye. But Alex's mission to find his father and learn more about his supposed destiny proves fruitless, when he finds his aunt and discovers his father has been gone for years. He's not on a quest to save the world; he just disappeared. His demons weren't literal, but instead an inner struggle that led him to leave his family behind. That knowledge nearly breaks Alex's spirit, but it reinforces the film's theme that, while we can learn from our past, we shouldn't be beholden to it.
But the story doesn't end with the heroes learning a lesson. They still have to fight an army of dead warriors resurrected by Morgana, who survived an earlier attempt by the heroes to kill her. Using Merlin's abilities to control the minds of their teachers, the four children recruit their classmates to fight alongside them. Rallying behind Alex, the students manage to hold out long enough to force Morgana to join in the battle herself. Although Merlin is wounded, he soon reengages Morgana. The students tie her up, and Alex delivers the killing blow.
By the end, our heroes are prepared for an uncertain world, but Merlin doesn't leave them completely empty-handed. The kids learn something about themselves, and come out stronger on the other side: Lance and Kaye find a new self-respect and humility, and Alex especially learns how to step up and become a hero. Bedders also discovers how to fight for himself, but it's not just his spirit that gets stronger.
At the beginning of the film, Bedders is hard at work trying to learn sleight of hand magic. But after observing Merlin in action, Bedders develops the ability to duplicate metallic objects. It proves to be an effective talent, as it helps the kids duplicate weapons and money so they can supply their army. Merlin admits that he initially intended to remove that power from Bedders, but decides instead that the boy is responsible enough to control his ability. Bedders leaves the film with a full-blown superpower.
Meanwhile, Alex also has a newfound power: Learning he can summon the Lady in the Lake in any body of water -- from mystical marshes to the bathtub -- he can try to reclaim the sword if he should need it again. The world promises to be a a difficult place going forward, but now Alex, who realizes he has it within him to be the inheritor of King Arthur, knows he can make a difference. There are still plenty of evils that could be uncovered. The film only touches on some elements of the Arthurian legends. Other students could become new incarnations of other knights. And while the children may have formed a small Round Table, Alex could still try to build some kind of new Camelot.
Written and directed by Joe Cornish, The Kid Who Would Be King stars Louis Ashbourne Serkis, Tom Taylor, Rebecca Ferguson, Patrick Stewart, Rhianna Dorris, Denise Gough, Dean Chaumoo, and Nathan Stewart-Jarrett.