Pre-teen Alex (Louis Ashbourne Serkis) spends his days helping best friend Bedders (Dean Chaumoo) evade bullies Lance (Tom Taylor) and Kaye (Rhianna Dorris). But when a nasty run-in leads to him hiding out in an old construction site, he stumbles across a sword half-encased in concrete. Freeing it, he inadvertently awakens two powerful beings; vengeful enchantress Morgana (Rebecca Ferguson), who vowed to return to Earth and wreak havoc when her half-brother King Arthur defeated her centuries ago, and kooky wizard, Merlin (Angus Imrie).
Having perfected tone-bending with Attack The Block, Cornish offers up a splendid mix of drama, adventure and fantasy here as Alex not only finds himself turning enemies into allies to take down a greater evil but seeking out his estranged father along the way, resulting in an emotional twist about his parentage that suggests anyone can be a hero – not just those who are predestined for greatness.
As well as addressing complicated family matters, The Kid Who Would Be King draws parallels between its fictional gloomy Britain – a ‘lost and leaderless’ nation that played a part in Morgana’s reemergence – and the divided times (Brexit, anyone?) we’re living in today, claiming that the younger generation have the power to save the world from ruin. Yet Cornish’s script never feels preachy as it subtly weaves serious subplots in with solid comedy – like a perfectly-executed extendable table gag – and thrilling action sequences, from horse-riding undead knights chasing a car through the streets of modern-day London to an epic final battle where baddies are obstructed by school equipment and tied-together hoodies.
It’s not perfect – Ferguson’s Morgana is disappointingly all talk and no action until the final act – but The Kid Who Would Be King boasts plenty of heart, thrills and fun. In a cinematic landscape saturated by animation and superhero movies, it’s a treat to see a live-action film full of charismatic young actors that contains some of that 80s-era, Spielberg magic without relying on nostalgia or tropes to recreate it. “They don’t make ‘em like this anymore,” you may have found yourself exclaiming on your last watch of The Goonies or E.T. Well, they do now…