This is a spoiler-free first review of The King’s Man, which hits theaters on December 22.
It seems almost impossible to see The King’s Man again, director Matthew Vaughn’s third entry in his comic book spy franchise. The wildly overloaded and often deliciously off-balance film – that is, actually, two movies in one – almost feels like proof of overhaul. A combination of the film’s many tonal and narrative contradictions along with its extremely unexpected moments create a situation where it’s difficult to quantify how it works as a whole.
So what about The King’s Man? This is a sprawling prequel to The Kingsman series, attempting to build the world and the origins of the independent spy agency. Its impressive ensemble cast is led by Ralph Fiennes in an equally blatantly dark and largely humorous turn. As Shola, Djimon Hounsou pursues his career as the absolute best thing in any comic book movie. Let’s be honest, do you even fit a sequential story these days if Hounsou isn’t at the top of your casting director’s list ?? Gemma Arterton brings a perfectly raw edge as Polly, a rude housekeeper turned secret agent. And then there’s Rhys Ifans on a career best tour – and a deranged career – as Rasputin. He is incredible.
As the world turns to World War I, The King’s Man begins. The story follows the Duke of Oxford de Fiennes, who becomes a pacifist after a family tragedy. This common thread is essential, as it represents the half of the film that will likely be the most difficult for viewers. While previous Kingsman films were action-packed comedies that delve into the salacious nature of James Bond and the spy franchises that inspired him, this is a very different beast. Over half of the runtime is about the nature of war, the importance of peace, and the Duke of Oxford’s struggle with his son’s quest to fight for his country. While it may be interesting things to explore, the film has almost nothing new to say on these matters. These segments mainly serve to slow down the fast-paced subplot, which is much more engaging and offers some truly jaw-dropping action.
This action – coordinated by a massive stunt team including Bradley James Allan, Allen Jo, Emma Ennis, Wayne Dalglish, and many more – is easily the climax of the film. When these epic fight scenes begin, you get lost in the middle of some of the most exciting stunt movie showcases in years. A Russian set starring Ifans (voiced by Tom Hatt), Hounsou (voiced by Cali Nelle) and Fiennes (voiced by Mark Faulkner) represents over ten minutes of action magic. Balletic, frenzied, beautiful and violent, there is so much here that will likely be studied for years to comeâ¦ if it doesn’t get lost in the runtime and several other storylines. It is not a unique moment either; There’s enough noticeable action here that you’ll wonder if there’s a smoother 90-minute cut to the film that just focuses on the brilliant choreography and less on the twisty feel of it all. And it’s this chaotic juxtaposition that will likely split audiences in half.
While the Duke has his pacifist tendencies, he is also trying to find a way to serve his country regardless. This is one of the many weird contradictions in this movie: someone can be a pacifist while still wanting to support the country that kills millions of people. This is a movie about the founding of the Kingsman Agency, so it’s no spoiler for us that we get a glimpse of their early days here. Vaughn does his best to subvert the pulp stories he takes inspiration from; Hounsou plays a servant and Arterton plays a housekeeper, but they both turn out to be much more. The Duke of Fiennes sometimes criticizes the treatment of people under the boot of the British government. It’s another aspect at the surface level, rather than being something deeper.
While it might not mean it, this is truly your father’s Kingsman movie. In fact, it might be the most daddy movie of all time. Not only is this a father and son story at its heart, but it’s the kind of tale that has been adapted for Dads audiences. It’s an action-packed historical piece that plays with ideas of masculinity while sticking to recognizable pulp tropes. Although a tragedy is brewing, much of the film plays out as a wish-fulfilling fantasy for fathers of a certain age and lifestyle. So really, The King’s Man’s biggest mystery is why it isn’t released on Father’s Day.
This duel between the old and the new is at the heart of The King’s Man.
This duel between the old and the new is at the heart of The King’s Man. Not just in the sense that Vaughn is trying to redefine his franchise or Fiennes and his onscreen son, Conrad (Harris Dickinson), but also in the concept of redefining what an intelligence agency can be. In this way, The King’s Man functions as a sort of utopian fantasy where all classes and all types of people can work together for a greater perceived good. But the lower class people still work for the aristocracy and the agency is still called The King’s Man, which gives you an idea of ââhow independent it is or how different it is.
If you can look past these glaring issues and want some luscious, roaring fun, then you might find a new favorite in Vaughn’s third film. This erases much of the weird sexual humor from the first two, replacing them with some outside action and lots of father / son drama. These tonal changes are hard to swallow and add to the film’s often unbalanced nature. While we don’t want to step into spoiler territory, it’s hard to see the thematic connection between Rasputin furiously throwing himself a wound while being seduced and the horrors of WWI, which are brutally shown in the second act too. long.
The notion and motivations of the bad guys also leave a nasty aftertaste. The King’s Man generalizes too easily when it comes to his idea of ââwho is evil and who is good, especially since the film aims to fit into and change real historical events. Plus, as a comic book fan, there’s a contemporary real-life aspect added to the story’s main villain that is so distracting and hilarious that once you notice it, it’s impossible not to focus on it. Was this slight apparent intentional? It sure does, and it’s just one more thing that throws the film in another weird direction. Even at his wildest, however, he’s both grounded and bred by his brilliant cast. Hounsou and Arterton shine, and Fiennes too when he is by their side. Aaron Taylor Johnson also has such a good small role that he’ll leave you wishing he was bigger. Sadly, the key role of the Duke’s son Conrad is truly forgettable, which is a big deal considering he’s meant to be the emotional heart of the story.
As a collection of the worst tyrants and criminal minds in history come together to prepare for a war to annihilate millions of people, one man must race against time to stop them. Discover the origins of the very first independent intelligence agency in The King’s Man, directed by Matthew Vaughn.