When the world is on the brink of disaster, only a select few can rise to thwart the enemy and bring peace to a world consumed by chaos. That is a popular motif in spy-themed novels, television series, and some of the most iconic characters in cinema. Based on comic series of the same name titled Kingman: The Secret Service, these British spy films (including Kingsman: The Secret Service and Kingsman: The Golden Circle) brought everything fans loved regarding spies: cool gadgets, quirky villains, and a sense of fun from the movies. There was only a matter of time until a prequel was made to explain how everything got started.
Normally, I’m not a fan of prequels because a lingering question always pops up; if the story was so interesting to begin with then why not tell us how everything got started with the first film? More often than not, prequels are usually a letdown, and any suspense is lost because obviously, the good guys win. Want proof? Just look at the films that came previously. Back to the main point of this review: let’s talk about this prequel to the Kingsman franchise with this newly titled The King’s Man.
The movie follows a British man named Duke Orlando Oxford (Ralph Fiennes) who has seen his share of war and depravity. Following the sudden and tragic death of his wife, Orlando vows to become a pacifist and do everything in his power to not cause harm to anyone. He becomes an overbearing and overprotective father to his son Conrad (Harris Dickinson). Conflicts and political tensions are coming to a head, and it appears that war is about to happen again. The King’s Man takes place leading up to the Great War and relishes in an alternate history with a big smile on its face. For the majority of the film, the historical events are largely fictionalized and goofy, to say the least.
After Archduke Franz Ferdinand (Ron Cook) is assassinated, this triggers a chain of events that brings the entirety of the world’s armies to conflict. The reason behind the assassination leads us to a remote farm where several people wear insignia-designed rings that show their allegiance to one man who has planned all of this. One of the agents of this mysterious group of saboteurs is Russian mystic Grigori Rasputin (Rhys Ifans) who is assigned to persuade the Tsar Nicholas II of his involvement in this growing conflict.
Without giving too much away in terms of plot, along for the ride are two servants of Duke Orlando Oxford and they are Polly (Gemma Arterton) and Shola (Djimon Hounsou) who work to gain information about all that is occurring. Duke Orlando Oxford has established an organization that has spies everywhere and seeks to find out any information regarding the growing conflicts around the world. If they can thwart any attacks or halt any aggressions, then their actions will keep the world much safer causing less risk of death and dismay.
Here’s the problem with The King’s Man. The idea itself is very fun and seeing the alternative history play out, even if Rasputin is often villainized much too often, is mostly engaging to watch. The movie suffers from a clear identity and often has numerous tonal shifts throughout the runtime. There are hilarious moments, engaging brutal fights, and scenes of despair and sadness. The film then circles back to the entertainment, but never finds the sweet spot to fully engage the audience. There were bouts of time when it became boring and even confusing because there would be one action scene, the characters would disappear, and then everything would appear normal again.
There are some positives though. Seeing World War I as the focal point of the movie and seeing Ralph Fiennes in his role was surely a lot of fun to watch. Rhys Ifans as Rasputin brings humor and energy to his role. Many of the action scenes are just fine. Nothing to ride home about, but mostly engaging.
However, most concerning is why director and co-writer Matthew Vaughn made this film feel confusing and misguided. This film has been delayed constantly due to the pandemic, and though it seemed like a movie to be excited about, in the end it is an overall frustrating theater experience. There are so many shifts in tone and lack of a clear direction. There are only small pieces of a story instead of a clear and concise action-adventure that the previous films had.
Score 1 out of 5
Despite a solid cast, a unique setup against the backdrop of World War I, The King’s Man can’t decide what it wants to be. The action is great, the humor works well at times, but overall, the movie is overlong, tedious, and lacks the creative flair that made the previous films such a joy to watch. With too many tonal shifts at play, I doubt that even the audience can begin to explain the plot of this movie which feels too complicated to follow and a lack of clear direction from Matthew Vaughn ultimately sinks the show.
This was one of the most anticipated films of the year, for me, and it is simply a huge disappointment. From the trailers, it looks like a blast but when you watch the movie yourself, it just delivers the bare minimum in terms of entertainment and that’s just a shame because the previous Kingsman films were enticing, enthralling, and were hilarious from beginning to end.
Here there are simply highlights with no substance to substantiate this film. The villains are forgettable, the explanation of how the Kingman organization was established isn’t convincing enough, and, most egregious, there are no gadgets! How did this promising action prequel fail at everything that the previous films did better?
Here’s to hoping the newly announced fourth film will be far better.