“THE KID WHO WOULD BE KING” — 3½ stars — Louis Ashbourne Serkis, Rebecca Ferguson, Tom Taylor, Patrick Stewart; PG (fantasy action violence, scary images, thematic elements including some bullying, and language); in general release; running time: 120 minutes
Joe Cornish’s “The Kid Who Would Be King” is a light-hearted, charming, pleasant surprise of a film. It’s a fun option in a time of year that can always use more fun.
Rooted in mythic tradition, “Kid Who Would Be King” brings the Arthurian legend to life in modern day. First, an animated opening prologue skillfully recounts the original story, where the Dark Ages king draws his sword Excalibur, assembles the Knights of the Round Table and vanquishes his supernatural half-sister Morgana, who swears to return and enslave the world in a day of leaderless conflict.
Enter the 21st century, and a humble 12-year-old schoolboy named Alex (Louis Ashbourne Serkis) has just enough fire in his belly to try to take on the schoolyard bullies even though he’s hopelessly overmatched. One night, those bullies — Lance (Tom Taylor) and Kaye (Rhianna Dorris) — chase Alex into a building site, where he pulls a mysterious sword out of a block of concrete.
The event wakes a sleeping Morgana (Rebecca Ferguson), buried deep underground, who begins preparing to re-enter the mortal world, claim the sword and begin her reign of terror. To stop her efforts, the wizard Merlin (Patrick Stewart) appears as a teenage boy (Angus Imrie) and tries to convince Alex that he’s been chosen as Arthur’s heir.
The quest is straightforward, if daunting: Alex and his best friend Bedders (Dean Chaumoo) must journey to Tintagel, where they will enter the Underworld and fight Morgana. Along the way, they will fight skeletal demons on horseback, and more importantly, have to put together an army of their own.
There’s a caveat, though, and it’s one of the things that makes this movie so good. Like the Arthur of old, Alex must make his enemies his friends, and that means he has to recruit Lance and Kaye to join the quest.
“The Kid Who Would Be King,” then, becomes a fun origin story for a heroic team of misfits that feels a lot more fresh and unique than your usual big screen team of misfits. Cornish’s film is less about the hero finding his courage and more about kids learning to set aside their childishness and learning to be adults.
It’s not all about the preachy message, though. “Kid Who Would Be King” doesn’t feature the best of the best when it comes to special effects, but it does employ a number of fun action sequences and a clever sense of humor that should entertain family members of various ages. It’s clearly intended for a young audience — hence a team of pre-teens acting as the first line of defense against a supernatural invasion of our mortal realm — but there’s plenty here to keep parents engaged as well.Comment on this story
Given the recent struggles of medieval films like last year’s “Robin Hood” and 2017’s “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword,” “Kid Who Would Be King’s” youthful spirit feels instructive, and gets at the heart of what makes those tales so legendary in the first place.
Rating explained: “The Kid Who Would Be King” is rated PG for some sequences of action violence and some suggestive CGI renderings for Morgana. There’s also some implied but obscured nudity (when Merlin arrives in the 21st century sans pants).