The children's movie from 'Attack the Block' director Joe Cornish stars Louis Ashbourne Serkis as a chosen one in Brexit-era Britain

By Dana Schwartz
January 22, 2019 at 03:11 PM EST
Kerry Brown/Fox

Over the past few decades, there have been a number of attempts to translate the legend of King Arthur into a compelling Hollywood property. (Some notable failures include 2004’s King Arthur, 2017’s King Arthur, and Transformers: The Last Knight, which boasts the lowest domestic box office of the entire six-movie franchise.) When you throw in the pair of equally forgettable recent middle-ages-set Robin Hood movies, it seems fair to say making a medieval movie people care about in the 21st century is basically the cinematic equivalent of pulling the sword from the stone, with one key difference: in the fable, someone was actually able to do it.

Although The Kid Who Would Be King is a serviceable kids adventure film from Joe Cornish (Attack the Block), it has a whiff failure from the beginning, the lingering sense that it’s a pitch for a franchise that will never take off.

That’s not to say it doesn’t have its charms: the script is good-natured and action-packed and attempts to delve into thematic territory beyond what might be normally expected from a kid’s movie.

Louis Ashbourne Serkis (son of Andy Serkis) stars as bullied pre-teen Alex in Brexit-era Britain who pulls the mythical Excalibur from a concrete block in a building site and discovers his destiny to prevent Britain, already falling apart from the inside, from descending into the clutches of the evil Morgana. Similarities to other Chosen One stories are gamely called out (one bully calls Alex “Percy Jockstrap”), but Alex never quite establishes himself as worthy enough to have been chosen for any particular reason. When he compares himself to Harry Potter and Luke Skywalker, who were also pulled out of mediocrity, it mostly just sounds like bragging.

The cast’s standout is Angus Imrie, who plays a teenage fish-out-of-water Merlin with the wide-eyed dynamism of Matt Smith’s Doctor. (If they were ever going back to gangly white boys for Doctor Who, Imrie would be a natural choice.) Merlin (played in his more mature form by Patrick Stewart) helps Alex and his friends learn the value of both the Chivalric code and cleverly assembled booby traps in order to stand up to evil. Though the movie is a game and fun action flick that will no doubt find young fans, it doesn’t offer much to adults, or to the argument that King Arthur stories deserve more screen-time. B

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