3.5 out of 5 stars.
Charming live-action family adventure films are largely a thing of the past. But writer and director Joe Cornish breathes new life into that sub-genre with “The Kid Who Would Be King,” a modern retelling of the tale of King Arthur and the sword in the stone that may not do anything vastly different with its source material, but is an entertaining jaunt the whole family can enjoy.
The story is set in modern-day United Kingdom and follows Alexander Elliot (Louis Ashbourne Serkis—yep, he’s the son of Andy Serkis), a 12-year-old boy going through a tough time. He lives with his single mother (Denise Gough), having never met his father, and he and his best friend Bedders (Dean Chaumoo) are constantly bullied at school. When running from bullies Lance (Tom Taylor) and Kaye (Rhianna Doris), Alex stumbles upon a sword in an empty construction site. He pulls it from the stone it’s stuck in and brings it home, but it soon becomes obvious that this is no ordinary sword. The next day he is followed by quirky boy who is actually Merlin (Angus Imrie, with Patrick Stewart popping up occasionally as Merlin’s older form), who informs Alex that the sword is actually Excaliber, he is the one true king, that King Arthur’s evil half sister Morgana (Rebecca Ferguson) is preparing to return and enslave all of England, and that he has four days to defeat her before a solar eclipse allows her to enter the mortal world.
Part of the reason why “The King Who Would Be King” works is because it is aimed squarely at a younger audience, with kids who its target audience can relate to inhabited all of the leading roles. But that doesn’t mean that an older audience can’t enjoy it too, as it has some fun action sequences, and it’s interesting to see how Cornish translates this ancient tale that most of us at least know the gist of and brings it into contemporary times. He doesn’t necessarily do anything vastly different with the story, but even though there are no surprises, it’s fun to see how the journey unfolds. The film does drag in the middle—at exactly two hours, it’s really a much longer movie than it needs to be, and there’s a lot of drama between Alex and Bedders and Lance and Kaye that could have been cut down. But the charisma of its young leads, particularly Serkis, hold it together. It has a lot of heart, and the humor it does have comes about naturally, rather than being forced on the audience.
One of the loveliest aspects of the movie is its treatment of Alex’s family history as it relates to the legend of Excaliber. Part of the story involves Alex trying to find his long-lost dad, believing that the sword was passed down through him. But Alex later learns that Excaliber isn’t passed down through a lineage, but rather chooses its owner based on merit. This idea that anyone, even the most average of individuals, even a kid, can be extraordinary isn’t new, but it always great to see—just like it’s great to see a solid adventure tale told in a timeless manner that the whole family can enjoy.
Runtime: 2 hours. Rated PG.