There’s the old saying that “they don’t make ‘em like they used to,” and when it comes to movies—especially a certain type of family fare—the same thought can apply. The ’80s gave birth to countless adventures featuring kids in leading roles, with stories pitting them against massive threats and seemingly impossible odds. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Goonies, The Explorers, Monster Squad, and even fare such as Space Camp and Masters of the Universe fit the bill for big stories with a very simple core—teamwork, friendship, and doing good.
Writer/director Joe Cornish (Attack the Block) grew up in that era, and it shows in The Kid Who Would Be King (20th Century Fox). Inspired by the classic Sword in the Stone mythology of King Arthur and the fabled sword, Excalibur, the film serves as a modern update on a tale with which a new generation may not yet be familiar.
Louis Ashbourne Serkis stars as Alex, a bullied youth who thinks he’s ordinary until he stumbles upon something quite extraordinary. After being chased through a construction site, Alex comes upon a crumbling block of concrete with a sword inside. Pulling it from the rubble with ease, Alex and his friend, Bedders (Dean Chaumoo) take to Google Translate for insight to the inscription on its crossguard. It’s said to be Excalibur, but the kids take it to be a prank until demons rise and an unusual new student arrives just as the chaos erupts.
Merlin, played by both Angus Imrie and Sir Patrick Stewart in an age-hopping twist, becomes the key to the story in convincing the new Knights of The Roundtable—including bullies Lance (Tom Taylor) and Kaye (Rhianna Dorris)—that their quest is not only real, but one worth taking.
What follows is a brisk and funny adventure that will connect with audiences of all ages, right down to pop culture connections including Star Wars and Mario Kart. There’s even a couple of not-so-subtle nods to 1981’s Excalibur, in which Stewart portrayed Leondegrance.
There’s also something to be said about some additional statements in the film, such as “a land is only as good as its leaders.” In the midst of a story about a bunch of kids being true to themselves and raising a sword for chivalry, there’s background reflection of the world we live in today. Storefronts with familiar black-and-yellow “going out of business” signs, and a slight edge of darkness that’s not a product of ancient evil, but the troubles of life in the 21st century.
Above it all, there’s a message that the future is unwritten, and it’s up to the kids of today to rise up and become the noble leaders of tomorrow, because there will always be battles left to fight.