FILM REVIEW – THE KID WHO WOULD BE KING. With Louis Ashbourne Serkis, Dean Chaumoo, Patrick Stewart, Tom Taylor, Rhianna Dorris. Written and directed by Joe Cornish. Rated PG for fantasy action violence, scary images, thematic elements including some bullying, and language. 110 minutes.
THE KID WHO WOULD BE KING puts a fresh spin on the King Arthur legend by bringing it into the modern day. It’s something that should please school-age viewers and should be tolerable for parents who may accompany them.
Alex (Louis Ashbourne Serkis) is a British schoolkid who is often victimized by bullies (Tom Taylor, Rhianna Dorris). His best friend Bedders (Dean Chaumoo) is similarly picked on, and his learning how to do magic tricks – not very well – isn’t especially helpful. While running onto a construction site while trying to avoid the bullies, he finds something that would be recognizable to anyone who knows the Arthurian story: the sword Excalibur.
When he pulls the sword from the stone it’s embedded in, it’s clear he has been marked for great things. However, it also puts him under threat from Morgana (Rebecca Ferguson), King Arthur’s half-sister who has been trapped underground for centuries and has now come forth to claim the sword as her rightful inheritance. That brings forth the wizard Merlin (Angus Imrie), who instructs Alex how to fight Morgana and prevent her plan to enslave the world.
With the help of Merlin, Bedders, and the bullies he enlists to his side – as Arthur brought former enemies to his fabled Round Table – Alex sets out his quest. It’s done with some humor without undercutting the main story. A big laugh for adults will be when Merlin reverts to his adult form and it turns out to be played with grizzled panache by none other than Patrick Stewart.
The movie reaches a climax with Alex leading his whole school against Morgana’s army of undead soldiers, but along the way he learns a variation of the code of chivalry, which emphasizes loyalty and honor. While the special effects make for a dramatic finale, writer/director Joe Cornish doesn’t neglect having a real ending. No, it’s not a set-up for a sequel. It faces the question the whole film has been pointing towards: what is a 12-year-old who’s been told he’s the successor to King Arthur supposed to do now? It’s not like Queen Elizabeth and her family are going to be stepping aside for him.
Stewart’s appearances are fun, and Ferguson is an effective villain, but the weight of the film is on Serkis and the rest of the young cast, and they get the job done. It’s very much of a boy’s movie, although Dorris is an effective part of the core group. At least they didn’t make her the “love interest.”
“The Kid Who Would Be King” won’t be on next year’s Oscar list, but it is a solid entry for those seeking entertaining family films.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel, Father of the Bride of Frankenstein, has just been released. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.