Tag: tom taylor

The Kid Who Would Be King

The Kid Who Would Be King (2019)
★★★ / ★★★★

On paper, “The Kid Who Would Be King” is corny: a boy who is constantly bulled at school discovers that not only is he a direct lineage of King Arthur of Camelot, he is destined to stop a sorceress (Rebecca Ferguson), imprisoned underground for centuries, from enslaving the entire planet. However, writer-director Joe Cornish consistently finds ways to retool and transform history and mythology in a way that is consistently entertaining. Kid- and family-friendly action-adventures from America could learn a thing or two from this familiar yet refreshing piece of work.

One could feel the writer-director’s love for children right from the get-go. It could have easily been a special and visual effects extravaganza first and foremost, human drama second. Instead, it is the other way around. Notice that despite the incredible developments—meeting an old wizard who is able to transform into a teenager, facing off with an army of fiery skeletons, fighting a dragon—the script always finds an opportunity to pull back and examine friendships, partnerships, relationship with self and family. At the same time, these are never saccharine, simply a natural development of the story. This is a risk because slowing down in the middle of an action-packed journey could prove fatal in less capable hands. Cornish is willing to experiment.

The chosen one is named Alex and he is played with charm and fervor by Louis Ashbourne Serkis. Although the film is largely comic and cheeky, it is correct to cast a performer who can excel in drama because the center of the picture is how Alex relates to those around him: his mother (Denise Gough), his best friend Bedders (Dean Chaumoo), bullies-turned-allies Lance and Kate (Tom Taylor, Rhianna Dorris), and the magical Merlin (Angus Imrie, Patrick Stewart). On top of this, the actor must create a character who is impacted by an absence of a father figure. You see, there is plenty to unbox and it is surprising how the work rolls with the punches and continues to move forward without feeling the need to drive a point across using a sledgehammer.

Despite the dazzling CGI, what surprised me most is how Arthur and his knights are painted. In numerous family-oriented movies where the bullied and the bully are required to team up in order to achieve a common goal, once a bond is formed, no matter how tenuous, it is a straight shot to the finish line. Not here.

I was so impressed that Alex and Bedders are constantly challenged by Lance and Kaye for nearly half the picture. The fact that there is a struggle among their team adds another layer of drama. It even has time to bring up the idea that maybe Lance and Kay are the way they are simply because they are older than Alex and Bedders, thus having experienced the world a little more. They do have a point when they claim that the world is far from a nice place. In other words, Arthur’s knights are not robotic allies; the script has ways of reminding us that they have a mind of their own. However, out of the four, I wish that Bedders had been given more opportunities to shine. His “magic tricks,” mainly serving as comic relief, only go so far.

“The Kid Who Would Be King” is the kind of film that most children would be enraptured by. Yes, there are the usual action sequences that keeps the material moving, but more important, I think, are its messages regarding empowerment, particularly during the second half. It is optimistic and it wishes to say that children can make a world of difference. On this topic, it is not subtle nor does it need to be. With so much junk entertainment aimed for kids, this film provides a better alternative.

The Dark Tower

The Dark Tower (2017)
★★ / ★★★★

For a source material filled with incredible imagination by Stephen King, drawing inspiration from old-school fantasy to spaghetti western, “The Dark Tower,” directed by Nikolaj Arcel, is a crushing disappointment. Instead of taking risks and really going for the violence and the bizarre, it is diluted and made safe for the sake of mainstream consumption. What results is a marginally interesting story about a boy with the Shine, or psychic powers (an allusion to King’s “The Shining”), named Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) discovering another world through his dreams, but the execution lacks energy and long-term intrigue. The protagonists strive to save the universe from annihilation and yet we do not care whether they would make it to the next scene. The screenplay requires major revisions.

Stories of epic scales are defined by the antagonist. Here, it is the Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey), wielding powers so astounding that he is able to take someone’s life simply by willing it. And yet for a villain who possesses such ability, Walter is a bore. He walks around in his black clothes barely showing any emotion, but there is no air of mystery about him. We learn nothing about his past or background or anything he might value. We learn of his goal about wishing to destroy the titular tower and why, but this is not enough to create a compelling character worth looking into.

The same critique can be applied to one of the main protagonists, a Gunslinger, the last of his kind, named Roland Deschain (Idris Elba). Like McConaughey, Elba is a charming performer who can usually communicate paragraphs simply by looking or controlling his body language a certain way. We learn that Roland is great with guns and cares about the boy from Earth, but what else is there to him? Both antagonist and protagonist are given superficial characteristics, but they are hollow inside. Discerning viewers will note that the performances are wooden; the actors look bored in their roles.

Special and visual effects are occasionally impressive—but only when it is willing to show the griminess of Mid-World, how unforgiving it can become at a moment’s notice. This is why the attack in the village and the scene in the woods stand out. For a couple of minutes, we feel on our tiptoes the wonder and foreboding nature of the alternate universe. Literally, it is the stuff out of one’s dreams. By comparison, the battle between the Gunslinger and the Man in Black in the end is laughable, looking more like a video game in the early-2000s by the second. There is a lack of urgency to this would-be climactic sequence.

If there is going to be an unlikely sequel, and I do want one, the writers need to make a decision that is right for the material. Perhaps most importantly, the content on screen needs to match the level of imagination and the willingness to take risks emanating from King’s “Dark Tower” series. Establishing and building lore is just as important as constructing thrilling action sequences, if not more. Because in order for us to care about what is unfolding, we must understand the worlds, their rules, and the beings who reside in them. Only then could we get a glimpse of their motivations. I did, however, enjoy the casting of Taylor because he seems capable of delivering more than what is on paper.