A prequel to the two previous films in the Kingsman franchise, The King’s Man, reveals the heroic origins of the very first independent intelligence and espionage agency. In the shadow of the first World War, a philanthropic pacifist Orlando Oxford and his son Conrad uncover a sinister plot. A who’s who of dark European powers and mysterious villains are conspiring to wipe out millions and destroy the world through the ravages of war. The elder Oxford knows the suffering of conflict and has vowed to protect his son from that trauma and promote peace; Conrad is not content to operate from the shadows and wishes to serve his country. What the Oxfords uncover and what the world suffers in the midst of WWI gives rise to The Kingsman agency and their mission for peace.
The King’s Man is helmed by writer and director Matthew Vaughn and is based on The Secret Services comics by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons. The film stars Ralph Fiennes, Harris Dickinson, Djimon Hounsou, and Gemma Arterton.
A criticism that has been leveled at the Kingsman franchise is that its spark and high energy are not backed up with anything of substance. Perhaps it’s true that The King’s Man is more flash than it is fleshed out, but who can complain when the action is wonderfully done. It’s to the film’s credit that The King’s Man’s particular brand of revisionist history is improbable, fantastical, and outright bonkers at times.
Rasputin, for example, leaps off the pages of history and into a caricature of his already larger-than-life persona. Rasputin teeters on the tightrope of fascinating and silly, and just before he falls into the abyss of ludicrous, The King’s Man whips out an expertly choreographed fight scene set to classical music and incorporating precise Russian ballet with intense action elements. This entire scene summarizes the whole of The King’s Man. For better or for worse, the film’s first-class action sequences are sometimes all that can save it from its own distractions and silly diversions.
Regrettably, the villains that provide the fodder for the heart-pounding fight scenes also fuel this critic’s disappointment.
The King’s Man hinges on the flimsiest of sinister plots, and despite its impressive roster of true-life historical villains, the baddie at the center of the film is half-baked and confusing. Further, the film reaches a hand into the future and touches on contemporary issues of social inequity, political scandal, and extremist ideology. The film’s primary villain is blamed for the real-life issues of extreme polarization and the manufacturing of political blackmail. In an effort to distinguish its heroes as the ultimate neutral noble, The King’s Man entrenches itself in an exhausting commentary that unforgivably cheapens the actual global impact of these themes. To put it plainly — if film is escapism and The King’s Man an opportunity to watch good triumph over evil, that opportunity is squandered by the film’s attempts to be current in its commentary.
The King’s Man is noble to a fault and preachy at its worst moments. The polished lacquer of its slick, suave spy adventure shows a bit of tarnish that comes with its age and overuse. What the film lacks in substance, it makes up for in incredible action sequences. Like a good Scotch, The King’s Man can be a rich and smooth viewing experience… if you’ve already acquired the taste for it.
The King’s Man arrives in theaters on December 22, 2021.
The King's Man
- Rating - 5/105/10
The King’s Man is noble to a fault and preachy at its worst moments. The polished lacquer of its slick, suave spy adventure shows a bit of tarnish that comes with its age and overuse.
Caitlin is a sweater enthusiast, film critic, and lean, mean writing machine based in Austin, TX. Her love of film began with being shown Rosemary’s Baby at a particularly impressionable age and she’s been hooked ever since. She loves a good bourbon and hates people who talk in movies. Caitlin has been writing since 2014 and you can find her work on Film Inquiry, The Financial Diet, Nightmarish Conjurings, and many others.