The Kid Who Would Be King ***

It’s a fun reimagining of the King Arthur legend that has a nice message for early teens who aren’t the most popular kid in school.  

Is it worth $10? Yes 

How do you make an old story new? Keep the structure, change the setting, and reimagine the characters. That’s what writer/director Joe Cornish (“Attack The Block”) has done with “The Kid Who Would Be King,” and to his credit it’s an effective update to the legend of King Arthur.

Set in modern England, the film starts with a focus on Alex (Louis Ashbourne Serkis) and Bedders (Dean Chaumoo), two tween losers who regularly get bullied. One night while escaping bullies Lance (Tom Taylor) and Kaye (Rhianna Dorris), Alex runs into a construction site and comes upon a sword in a block of concrete, err, stone. He pulls the sword out, not thinking anything of it. Come to find out Alex is a descendant of King Arthur!

It’s worth noting that Alex has zero leadership ability, let alone fighting skills. In this sense it’s a typical children’s coming-of-age story, in which the ineffective youth is given great responsibility and rises to the occasion to save the day. Thankfully, Alex has a young Merlin (a terrific Angus Imrie, and played by Patrick Stewart when older) to guide him, and recruiting Lance and Kaye to be his knights, along with Bedders, gives him others to rely upon.

Their foe is the medieval menace Morgana (Rebecca Ferguson), who was defeated and banished to the bowels of the earth thousands of years ago, and is now returning. She’s just the right amount of threatening for a children’s movie: Fearsome enough to be a legitimate villain, but not so imposing that you can’t fathom how the kids will defeat her. Also, pet peeve: She often speaks in a whisper, which is supposed to make her more menacing. Instead it’s annoying – a slightly deeper, stern version of Ferguson’s regular voice would have sufficed.

The reason Morgana is returning now? As news reports and headlines reveal, the world is tearing itself apart. Poor leadership, political strife and social divisions have brought mankind to a breaking point, and Morgana is eager to strike while humanity is weak. No specific politicians are named, but the social commentary is unmistakable. How well it fits in a film in which characters directly reference, and at times become a part of, an illustrated children’s book is up for debate.

There are no surprises in “The Kid Who Would Be King,” and that’s fine. This is a movie aimed at older kids/early teens that accomplishes what it sets out to do in a satisfactory way. The only real point of concern for youngsters is the running time: The film is 132 minutes, which is long for a generation that’s not exactly known for its attention span. Regardless, the action, visual effects, and humor should be enough to keep them engaged throughout.

Did you know?
The title is a riff on “The Man Who Would Be King,” a 1975 film that’s based on a Rudyard Kipling short story. It has nothing to do with the legend of King Arthur.

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