Written and directed by Joe Cornish, (who introduced the world to John Boyega with Attack the Block in 2011), The Kid Who Would Be King retells the Arthurian legend in contemporary England. The two-hour family film opens Friday in wide release.
A 12-year-old boy, Alex (Louis Ashbourne Serkis, youngest son of motion-capture legend Andy Serkis) discovers that he is King Arthur's true heir and must save a lost and leaderless world from the predations of Arthur's half-sister Morgana (Rebecca Ferguson), who's been interred deep beneath the earth's surface for centuries, but now senses that the time is right for her to attack.
Alongside his best friend Bedders (Dean Chaumoo) and two school bullies Lance (Tom Taylor) and Kaye (Rhianna Dorris), Alex must survive several consecutive nights of attack from Morgana's minions, a flaming calvary who prove no match for the dexterity and swordsmanship of elementary schoolers. The children are guided in their quest by Merlin (a spotty Patrick Stewart), who generally assumes a teenage form (Angus Imrie) to monitor and hang with the kids. One senses that Imrie, a giraffe-like comedic presence who recalls Ferris Bueller's Alan Ruck, may be on the cusp of wider stardom. Director Joe Cornish seems to have a knack for spotting emerging talent. And Imrie, with his goofy face and impossible body, is a delight on screen. Scenes come alive when he shows up.
The story itself is a tad long and meandering, and occasionally reliant (in scripted dialogue and visual stylings) on the likes of Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings. Some will recognize that the dramatic personal revelation near the film's end is a carbon copy of one that appeared in 1993's Rookie of the Year. The climax, in which a student body goes toe to toe with Morgana and her army of bad guys, is full of fun, creative PG action that's endlessly more original and entertaining than the over-the-top CGI clashes that have degraded the superhero film genre.
Though the script tends toward moralizing and over-explanation, there are a handful of quite moving scenes. Among Cornish's gifts is working well with young actors, and it should come as no surprise that he has coaxed some punchy, memorable performances from his leads.