‘The Kid Who Would Be King” (3 stars) With Louis Ashbourne Serkis, Dean Chaumoo, Tom Taylor, Angus Imrie, Rhianna Dorris and Patrick Stewart.
It’s been eight years since Joe Cornish’s directorial debut, “Attack the Block,” a ferociously funny and fresh alien invasion flick that introduced audiences to John Boyega, who would go on to rule the universe in “Star Wars.” It’s an alien movie that succeeds because it’s rooted in contemporary culture — the kids battling the wild extraterrestrials are council estate hoodies.
In his long-awaited sophomore effort, “The Kid Who Would Be King,” Cornish remains rooted in British culture. His heroes may be a bit younger, and he swaps sci-fi/horror for historical fantasy, but Cornish fully embraces the legends and lore that shaped Britain.
It’s not always easy to put a new spin on a story that’s been done as many times as the tale of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table — just ask Guy Ritchie and Charlie Hunnam, whose “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” tanked badly at the box office.
But with earnestness and a deep affection for the morals contained within the legend, Cornish crafts a King Arthur movie that draws in a younger crowd, reinterprets the tale for a modern age and speaks consciously to the current political climate. That’s quite the feat.
Louis Ashbourne Serkis stars as Alex, a sweet, nerdy kid who badly misses his father and bravely sticks up for his best friend, Bedders (Dean Chaumoo), against brutal school bullies Kaye (Rhianna Dorris) and Lance (Tom Taylor). Running from his tormentors, he escapes into a construction site and finds a sword buried in a concrete piling. He pulls it out and — voila, Excalibur. Merlin — in young form (Angus Imrie), older form (Patrick Stewart) and avian form — arrives to guide young Alex on his quest to save a leaderless, hopeless, divided Britain.
Alex needs some knights, so he taps Bedders, Lance and Kaye, hoping to rely on their strength and confidence. And because they witness one of the fiery zombie knights that come for him at night, sent by the witchy villainess Morgana (Rebecca Ferguson), Arthur’s half-sister, who believes the sword is her inheritance. The quartet set out on a journey to save the world, learning lessons about what it means to uphold the chivalric code in their actions and in their hearts.
“The Kid Who Would Be King” is a smart and sprightly kids’ movie imbued with pertinent lessons, not just about history but about how we can comport ourselves to be better citizens with honesty, bravery, love and teamwork. It is a truly epic adventure, and it takes its time traveling from beat to beat.
All the story points and emotional journeys are carefully articulated, but the film is far too long; there are anticlimactic climaxes that lead into further battles, and the running time is unnecessarily protracted.
But it’s hard to find fault when the characters are so charming, especially Imrie as a truly wacky version of a teenage Merlin, sporting a baggy Led Zeppelin tee and gobbling fried chicken when he’s not mumbling incantations. Imrie lights up the screen, but Serkis and Chaumoo bring the heart and humor as the best friends who become unlikely heroes.
“The Kid Who Would Be King” pulls off the difficult hat trick of being simultaneously clever, inspiring and relevant, and that’s worth cheering.