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Remember being a kid, charging through the woods, thrusting a plastic sword at imaginary foes? If not, the new film The Kid Who Would Be King will take you there. Set in present-day England and starring a middle schooler, the charming Arthur-legend update delivers a mixed bag of make-believe and modern boyhood.
Alex (Louis Ashbourne Serkis), a 12-year-old kid who doesn’t know he’s a king, already carries heavy burdens. His father abandoned both him and his mother years before, and school bullies harass him. It’s the camaraderie of a close friend, Bedders (Dean Chaumoo), that gets him through each day.
Walking through a construction site, Alex finds a sword protruding from a concrete slab. He can’t read the Latin words etched in the metal weapon.
“There’s something written on the guard. Put it into Google Translate,” Alex urges Bedders, who pulls out his smartphone.
Alex extracts Excalibur, thereby beginning a journey to discover his destiny, a quest that winds through Stonehenge and the school gym. Young Merlin (Angus Imrie) appears, dressed in a Led Zeppelin concert T-shirt (Patrick Stewart plays older Merlin). Merlin warns Alex that the evil sorceress Morgana (Rebecca Ferguson) will soon emerge from the underworld to take Excalibur and tyrannize England. Morgana sends a legion of undead knights in advance. To counter her invasion, Alex must raise an army from the school chums who mistreat him. He also searches for his father.
So, do you take the kids to this PG-rated film or send them outside to play? Misuses of God’s name, frightening images, practice of magic, and Morgana’s sensual garb are cautions. But the film gets thumbs up for beautiful landscapes, comical clashes of things medieval and modern, and messages promoting truth-telling and the befriending of enemies. Serkis and Chaumoo turn in strong performances. Some other young actors’ uncomfortable demeanors and stiff computer graphics at times give the film an unsophisticated feel.
But such were also, if you remember, our woodsy adventures.