Synopsis – As a collection of history’s worst tyrants and criminal masterminds gather to plot a war to wipe out millions, one man must race against time to stop them.
My Take – Manners Maketh Man.
Released in 2014, Kingsman: The Secret Service, director Matthew Vaughan‘s adaption of the comic series, The Secret Service, by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons, was one of the biggest surprise releases of the year, due to a fresh over the top yet lighthearted take on the action spy genre, mixing excellent action with hilarious sense of humor for good measure. A success which was replicated in the bloated yet still very enjoyable sequel, Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017).
However, though Matthew Vaughan returns to helm once again and co-write with Karl Gajdusek, this third installment, which had received nine proposed release dates, instead acts as a prequel, taking us back to events World War I, before the foundation of the titular independent secret service agency. But what’s most surprising aspect of the film is how it makes for a major departure in tone from its predecessors.
While it contains the expected eccentric fun action scenes and comical characters, this latest entry is more focused on a personal father/son relationship story rooted in a partial alternative history plot. Hereby, resulting in a decent prequel that has a few enjoyable moments, but overall lacks the charm we have come to expect from the series.
By taking this unusual direction from the previous two films, the film ends up being far more serious and because how much it tries to tie these events into the series, it ends up feeling rather confused and messy. Depending on expectations, audiences may end up being disappointed with this prequel.
Beginning in 1902, the story follows Orlando Oxford, the Duke of Oxford (Ralph Fiennes), a former solider turned pacifist, who made a vow to his dead wife to make sure their son Conrad (Harris Dickinson) never sees war. But when World War I erupts in Europe, Oxford struggles to deal with Conrad’s undying desire to sign up to serve his country,
And when, England’s King George (Tom Hollander) asks for his help to prevent the war from escalating further, Duke and Conrad, along with the help of an intelligence network formed by servants in his employ including Shola (Djimon Honsou) and Pollyanna “Polly” Wilkins (Gemma Arterton), go on a mission to kill Russian monk Rasputin (Rhys Ifans), who works for an unknown adversary hell bent on destroying England.
Unlike the first two films, this one does away with the over-the-top nature and the fun tone of this series and replaces it with conventional war drama. But by doing so director Matthew Vaughn clearly fumbles the ball as due to his desire to make a war film he tonally confuses the film by confining the setting into the Kingsman universe despite the story not warranting any necessary connections.
The film’s a mess in terms of tone. Moments of silliness are followed by moments of tragedy that are intended to be moving. We know they’re moving because the soundtrack insists on it. Something which even effects the film’s pacing, and make the film, especially the first two acts, feel very dull.
However, it does find some kind of footing in the last half hour of the 131 minutes, when all of the masses exposition which director Vaughn spends most of the film trying to compress, start to pay off in some way or the other. The film does offer enough sly winks to signal it knows what it’s doing playing with these dubious old tropes. But usually that comes in the form of making Gemma Arterton‘s Poppy pop up and do something hilariously badass, only to then sideline her again. The little glimpses of humor are present, but much rarer as the film focuses more on Drama.
Thankfully, Matthew Vaughn‘s stylistic direction also continues to flourishes in the action sequences and panning shots. Two sequences in particular, stand out – one, a showpiece sword fight between the heroes and a ballet-dancing Rasputin and the other, a brutal, silent knife fight between Allied and German soldiers in No Man’s Land. Even though the violence is a bit more tame here.
Unsurprisingly, the film’s biggest strength is its cast. Ralph Fiennes is great in this film, he is as perfectly cast in this role as Colin Firth was in the 2015 original. He brings all the charm and etiquette you’d expect from this type of character while being completely capable in all the action scenes. Harris Dickinson does a good job as Oxford’s son as he shows a range of emotions and expressions to reflect the daunting experiences he goes through.
Djimon Hounsou and Gemma Arterton made for really likeable and entertaining additions as they actually ended up stealing scenes for large portions. Rhys Ifans as Rasputin was a treat. He came off as very unsettling in certain scenes, but there is never a dull moment with him on screen.
In other roles, Tom Hollander, Charles Dance, Matthew Goode, Daniel Brühl, Valerie Pachner, Alison Steadman, and Aaron Taylor-Johnson are also good. On the whole, ‘The King’s Man’ is a decent prequel saddled by an unfortunately inconsistent tone.
Directed – Matthew Vaughn
Rated – R
Run Time – 131 minutes