The Kid Who Would Be King

 

            The King Arthur story has been told in many ways, but this latest one is really designed for kids to enjoy.

            Alex (Louis Ashbourne Serkis) is a middle-school kid in an English private school, complete with coat-and-tie unforms, and older kids who bully the younger ones.  When Alex finds that his best friend, Bedders (Dean Chaumoo) is being targeted, he runs to his friend's rescue, only to earn detention, because he wouldn't say who started the fight. His Mother (Denise Gough) is clearly disappointed in him, and says that his father would be, also, because he always wanted his son to be a good boy.  Unfortunately, Dad's not around any more, and hasn't been for a while.  Alex doesn't tell his Mother, but secretly he's not sorry he came to his friend's defense.  But the bullies are waiting for him after detention, and Alex runs away to a roped-off, abandoned construction lot, where he finds....yes, a sword in a stone.

            We all know what happens next.  Alex pulls the sword out of the stone.  But even though he's read all about King Arthur and Excalibur, he doesn't believe it, even when strange things start happening, like the sword occasionally lighting up.  But when the dark, fiery horseman comes after him at night, now he knows something's changed.  That new kid in school, who calls himself Merton (Angus Imrie), actually turns out to be a young Merlin, who can transform himself into an owl, or, occasionally, into his older “real” self, played by Patrick Stewart.  Merlin tries to convince Alex that he needs to take Excalibur and go defeat the Queen of the Underworld, Arthur's evil half sister, Morgana (Rebecca Ferguson), before the eclipse happens in four days, otherwise she'll enslave all of Britain.

            Well, that's a heavy task for a young boy who's still trying to find his way around middle school. But Alex, it turns out, has all the qualities necessary:  he's brave, he's clever, and he has a skill for turning enemies into friends,.  Still, he suffers from disappointments and frustrations along the way.  He launches a Quest for his long-lost Dad, mistakenly thinking he could help.  He fails to tell his Mom what he's up to, which naturally worries her, and so Alex breaks the chivalry code of honoring his loved ones. Of course, in the end, he turns out to be both resourceful and remorseful, which enables him to inspire others around him.

            Yes, it might be too intense for small children, but really, the jousting violence is without bloodshed, and only the evil skeleton-knights get destroyed.  Thankfully, writer and Director Joe Cornish does not have the kid stars cursing, and resists the temptation to insert “adult humor” into their dialogue.  He even spares us any cringeworthy moments of pubescent romance.  We like these kids because they seem both real and genuine.  And the old legend of King Arthur enjoys a modern re-telling, with some fun CGI embellishment.  Nicely done.

 

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association