Kids of the round table

A sweet but lackluster update of the King Arthur legend

Louis Ashbourne Serkis, Rebecca Ferguson and Patrick Stewart. Cinemark 14, Feather River Cinemas. Rated PG.
Rated 2.0

A modern day, bullied kid pulls a sword out of a stone and is tasked with saving the world. The Kid Who Would Be King is writer-director Joe Cornish’s attempt to capture the youthful, magical wonder of Harry Potter and mix it with the legend of King Arthur. While he doesn’t completely fail, an overall drab directorial style, messy action and many moments that are far less clever than he seems to have intended keep this fantasy film from being a true crowd-pleaser.

That said, the film does feature a pretty good performance from Louis Ashbourne Serkis (son of motion-caption actor Andy Serkis—Gollum, Snoke, et al.) as Alex, a fed-up British kid who sticks his neck on the line to protect best bud Bedders (Dean Chaumoo) from the bully, Lance (Tom Taylor). Serkis is a little overwrought in some of the film’s more emotionally demanding parts, but he hits the right notes when it comes to Alex’s heroic proclamations after he procures Excalibur from a big rock in the middle of a construction site.

Alex happens to notice that “Bedders” sounds a lot like “Bedivere,” the Round Table knight who threw Excaliber into the lake, and that Lance could be short for Lancelot. So, he figures destiny requires him to knight the two, along with Kaye (Rhianna Dorris), Lance’s partner in crime (King Arthur had a knight named Sir Kay … get it?). They form an unlikely alliance against Morgana (Rebecca Ferguson), the banished half-sister of King Arthur who threatens to return in flying-dragon-lady form and make England the hub for the apocalypse.

Ferguson, so good in the Mission: Impossible movies, gets little opportunity to really make a mark as the villain. And when she’s fully transformed into her dragon persona, the monster looks a little bit like Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion Medusa from the original Clash of the Titans (1981), but it’s not enough of an homage to be cool. It’s just kind of derivative and sketchy.

Looking a little lost, with wild hair and a Led Zeppelin T-shirt, Patrick Stewart has too few scenes as an aged version of Merlin. He gives his few moments a fun, goofy touch, but he’s just a guest star. For the most part, the Merlin character appears in the form of a teenager (Angus Imrie) and (whenever he sneezes) an owl. All the different versions of Merlin add up to an odd, less-than-unified character.

While Cornish showed a scrappy ingenuity with his only other directorial feature—the relatively low-budget Attack the Block (2011)—the overall effect of this haphazard adventure is surprisingly dull, even with much more money to spend on special effects and action.

I will say there are worse movies for kids to see. There’s a good central message about making nice with your classmates despite differences. There’s also a sweet, semi-moving element involving Alex’s single mom and his missing father. Cornish does all right with the humanity stuff; he just doesn’t bring much magic to the fantasy realm.