Director: Matthew Vaughn
Writers: Matthew Vaughn and Kari Gajdusek
Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Gemma Arterton, Rhys Ifans, Matthew Goode, Tom Hollander, Harris Dickinson, Daniel Brühl, Djimon Hounsou, and Charles Dance
Matthew Vaughn’s Kingsman series is turning into its own cinematic universe. After two mainline films, The King’s Man acts as a prequel showing the formation of the spy organisation, with enough in the film to set up branching sequels spread out across the history of the Kingsman organisation. On top of that the third film in the main series is due to start production next year, so while the films are being released in a slow and steady fashion, it’s clear that Vaughn doesn’t want Kingsman going anywhere, anytime soon.
In 1902, during the Boer War, Orlando (Ralph Fiennes) and his family travel to South Africa to visit a concentration camp as part of work for The Red Cross. While they’re there, Orlando’s wife, Emily (Alexandra Maria Lara) is shot during an attack and dies in front of her son, Conrad (Alexander Shaw and then Harris Dickinson when Conrad is older). She makes Orlando promise that he will protect their son, and he sets out to do just that. Over a decade later, with World War 1 looming, Orlando must go to extreme measures to keep his promise and Conrad away from the front lines. His son on the other hand is desperate to do his duty for his country.
While it is a prequel to the previous two Kingsman films, set against the backdrop of rising tensions in Europe during the early 20th century, it still has the same flair and action of the original films. The action is thrilling and well-choreographed, especially an extended fight sequence between the heroes and Rasputin (Rhys Ifans). There’s nothing in The King’s Man that quite compares to the church scene from the first film, but it’s still better than most action films being produced today. Everything looks great, with exceptional sets and period clothing. It’s clear that there was a lot of attention to detail, and it really pays off.
Ralph Fiennes is great as Orlando, the action hero at the centre of the story. He’s completely believable as the nobleman who wants peace and to help people, and when the action gets going, he’s completely believable in that as well. He’s really giving it his all and is excellent. The rest of the cast are equally great, with some good performances from Gemma Arterton and Harris Dickinson.
The strange thing about The King’s Man is how much of a mess the tone is. It jumps about from a period spy adventure to a WW1 drama, and even a history lesson from school. There are moments where it goes into a fair bit of detail explaining the history of WW1 almost like a PowerPoint presentation from school. It really suffers from jumping all over the place because you never feel settled. There are points where it’s being funny and the almost instantly there’s a really grounded scene of soldiers dying in the war. Action that feels right out of a comic, compared to a scene that feels like it was a leftover from 1917. It feels like it wants to be the lighthearted fun adventure that the previous Kingsman films were, but it never quite makes it. At points it becomes tedious, but there’s still fun to be had. You wouldn’t expect to be learning about history during a Kingsman film, but that’s what happens.
The King’s Man may not reach the same heights as the original film, but it’s a lot better than the second one. It’s all over the place, but the great action and the excellent Ralph Fiennes makes it more than worth a watch.
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