“The Kid Who Would Be King” revitalizes the Arthurian legend for a new generation of film fans, with a family-friendly story as sharp as Excalibur’s blade.
Director Joe Cornish grounded the alien-invasion genre with clever plotting and entertaining English youngsters with 2011’s “Attack the Block” and does the same with epic fantasy with this clever “Kid” (★★★ out of four; rated PG; in theaters Friday), centering on an embattled schoolboy whose destiny is much bigger than he ever dreamed.
Twelve-year-old Alex (Louis Ashbourne Serkis) feels out of sorts just in general – he still struggles with his dad leaving years earlier, and Alex and best friend Bedders (Dean Chaumoo) are frequent targets for bullying schoolmates Lance (Tom Taylor) and Kaye (Rhianna Dorris). One evening when chased by these two, Alex winds up in a construction area and finds a sword in a stone.
He pulls it out, brings it home and wonders if it could be the same one King Arthur wielded in the story told in a beloved book Alex’s father left for him. Of course it is, and the sword’s reappearance brings about a couple of other ancient players: The magician Merlin (Angus Imrie) strolls out of Stonehenge as a naked teenager and seeks out Alex to help him against the dark forces of sorceress Morgana.
Arthur’s half-sister has apparently been hanging out under London this whole time waiting for a cynical and leaderless world where she can rise again, and Alex and Bedders band together with reluctant pals Lance and Kaye to fight off Morgana and her horde of undead soldiers on flaming horses.
While Alex pulls together warriors around his round (dining room) table, Patrick Stewart– an actual knighted dude – also shows up as Merlin’s older self. He doesn’t have that much screen time, though, and for once that’s not a bad thing. Imrie’s a crazy-eyed gem who gives “The Kid” much of its winning goofiness, with teen Merlin scarfing down fried chicken (for wizarding power, natch) and turning into an owl via body-shaking sneeze. Meanwhile, Serkis, baby-faced son of Andy, is just as integral to the story in conveying the film’s more heartfelt, earnest moments.