All the young actors show they have charm to spare in this surprisingly delightful film full of action, heart, a crazy-haired Patrick Stewart (as “old” Merlin) and a few genuinely good gags. Rating: 3 star out of 4.

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Movie review

The Arthurian legend gets a modern and more youthful spin in “The Kid Who Would Be King,” a surprisingly delightful film full of action, heart, a crazy-haired Patrick Stewart (as “old” Merlin) and a few genuinely good gags — and it really couldn’t have come at a better time.

It’s an Amblin-esque movie about fantasy, geek culture and outcasts that’s actually been made for modern kids — not nostalgic adults who crave both the cozy comfort of the things they grew up with, but, like, with way more violence, gore and nudity. “The Kid Who Would Be King” reclaims the fantasy genre for actual kids of today. And it’s not even set in the 1980s.

You can thank writer and director Joe Cornish for the restraint (although the score is pretty heavy on the synths). The film is his follow-up to “Attack the Block,” the cult sci-fi hit that helped put John Boyega (of “Star Wars”) on the map. Here he introduces audiences to some other young talents to watch, including Louis Ashbourne Serkis, Andy Serkis’ son, as would-be-king Alex.

Alex is a normal and slightly dorky lower-middle class British schoolkid, living with his mom (Denise Gough). He struggles with everyday stuff — waking up on time, completing his school assignments and protecting his buddy, Bedders (a truly wonderful Dean Chaumoo), from schoolyard bullies named Lance and Kaye, but he’s trying his best.

Then one night, running from Lance (Tom Taylor) and Kaye (Rihanna Dorris), Alex spots a sword in the middle of a construction site and removes it from the stone with ease. He and Bedders plug the inscription into Google translate and try to keep their imaginations in check when they realize that it might be real.

From here, the film just gets grander and weirder, with the introduction of Young Merlin (a brilliant comedic performance from Angus Imrie), and the enemy, Morgana (Rebecca Ferguson). Morgana, we’re told, is Arthur’s power-crazy half-sister who has been waiting for centuries for the perfect moment to rise. Although Brexit isn’t explicitly mentioned, it is the not-so-subtle context for all of this.

When creatures start attacking at night, Bedders and Alex decide to enlist Lance and Kaye to help. They might be bullies, but they’re also the strongest. And what follows is a big, classic quest as the four kids journey through the countryside and learn about sword fighting, the chivalric code, teamwork, trust and the Lady of the Lake (who can be conjured in any body of water). Although basically unknowns, all the young actors have charm to spare and carry the film admirably.

“The Kid Who Would Be King” really is quite a sweet and well-told re-imagining of this story that’s fit for the whole family.


★★★ “The Kid Who Would Be King,” with Louis Ashbourne Serkis, Patrick Stewart, Denise Gough, Dean Chaumoo, Tom Taylor, Rihanna Dorris, Angus Imrie, Rebecca Ferguson. Written and directed by Joe Cornish. 132 minutes. Rated PG for fantasy action violence, scary images, thematic elements including some bullying, and language. Opens Jan. 25 at multiple theaters.