‘The Kid Who Would Be King’ Review: Cult Director Waxes Arthurian | Modern Society of USA

‘The Kid Who Would Be King’ Review: Cult Director Waxes Arthurian

‘The Kid Who Would Be King’ Review: Cult Director Waxes Arthurian

In 2011, the British writer-comedian Joe Cornish delivered a promising feature directing debut with “Attack the Block,” a wild, irreverent science-fiction action-comedy about an alien invasion thwarted by a gang of tough teenagers. That film, which also gave us the screen acting debut of the future “Star Wars” favorite John Boyega, was not a huge hit, but gained cult status over the years, prompting speculation about what its talented writer-director might do next.

It’s taken eight years for Cornish to release another feature, and it may feel strange at first to see him at the helm of a modest children’s adventure about a modern-day King Arthur. But “The Kid Who Would be King” still has some of the wit and sweep that distinguished Cornish’s earlier work.

The film’s setup is simple. The meek 12-year-old Alex (Louis Ashbourne Serkis), chased into an abandoned construction site by the school bullies, comes upon a sword stuck in a hunk of stone and pulls it out. A Latin inscription on the weapon suggests that it may well be Excalibur, the legendary sword of King Arthur, although Jack and his best pal, Bedders (Dean Chaumoo), initially decide that’s a ridiculous notion.

Circumstances soon change. Flaming demons appear in the middle of the night and torment our bewildered hero. Out of the mists of Stonehenge emerges the rather odd-mannered young wizard Merlin (Angus Imrie), who enrolls himself at school under the name of Mertin. (“Greetings, fellow academicians,” he intones to the other kids. “I am a perfectly normal contemporary English schoolboy!”)

He then tries to convince Alex and Bedders that the world needs their heroism at this very moment, for a variety of reasons. For starters, the country seems divided, and political and social discord rule the land — a bit of real-life relevance the film doesn’t pursue much further. More urgently (and cinematically), Arthur’s mortal enemy Morgana (Rebecca Ferguson) is emerging from a centuries-long slumber, intent on enslaving humanity.

What ensues is a brisk, well-mounted children’s fantasy, with Cornish giving the story an entertainingly apocalyptic spin. Children covered in armor drive “Mad Max”-style cars to combat the forces of darkness, while their school turns into a hellscape of warfare and fire. The action is creatively staged, without ever getting too intense or scary for young viewers. And the script balances humor, pathos and wish fulfillment as it portrays Alex’s rise from mopey dreamer to confident warrior, without overdoing the mythic portent.

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