Prior to the release of The King’s Man, director Matthew Vaughn’s previous two entries in the franchise have gone one for two. The first film that started the franchise Kingsman: The Secret Service is the better of the two as a multiverse James Bond spy thriller with stylistic slow-motion style action, a lot of violence and sexual innuendo. The follow up, Kingsman: The Golden Circle doubled down on the use of the stylistic action, over-saturating the film with an even worse premise, execution and too much action over substance. The common denominator the first two films shared was the leading men of Taron Egerton and Colin Firth.
Now, Matthew Vaughn brings the world of Kingsman into the origins of the secret service. World War 1 era, which during that sequence looked to be a poor man’s 1917 – even Wonder Woman’s No Man’s Land Sequence landed better. Sure, the sequence itself was tense and pulse-pounding with craters fighting in silence to not draw too much attention of the machine guns but it completely takes the films tone and switches it making The King’s Man a tonal nightmare. In the turn of the century South Africa Orlando, Duke of Oxford (Ralph Fiennes), his wife Emily (Alexandra Maria Lara) and their son Conrad (Alexander Shaw as young Conrad) visit a concentration camp working for the Red Cross where Emily is killed by Sniper fire.
Orlando’s pacifism follows Conrad into adulthood (Harris Dickinson as Older Conrad). A shadowy organization led by a villain who keeps his back turned to the camera for the 2-hour run time plans to start a world war. For what reason? No one knows, he’s evil for evil’s sake. When the Archduke Franz Ferdinand is assassinated, Conrad’s hope to fight in the war is continuously shot down leaving Orlando to recruit his son to work with him away from the front lines on the intelligence side along with Shola (Djimon Hounsou) and Polly (Gemma Arterton).
The main problem I have with The King’s Man begins with the marketing. Every piece of marketing shows Rasputin (Rhys Ifans) to be the big bad villain who our heroes will be tasked to take down. But, Rasputin is in a quarter of the movie and plays no major role whatsoever. Instead, Vaughn opts to keep the villain’s identity secret for the entire length of the film and thus eliminating any development to the character. What is his motivation for starting a war? Why was this the only option? I’m just left confused. Was the purpose to sell tickets based on the popular Tik Tok song and dance? I’m not saying that was the reason, just seems the most plausible. Rasputin is Kevin Bacon’s Sebastian Shaw from X-Men: First Class.
Noticeably, the stylistic action that Vaughn dazzled us with in the first two installments is missing in action. Sequences move in real-time – I was half expecting every action sequence to feature some sort of slow-motion effect but was left pleasantly surprised by the exclusion. Maybe the Kick-Ass director heard all the complaints about The Golden Circle.
Leading The King’s Man is Ralph Fiennes who literally cannot give a bad performance if his life depended on it. For most of the film, Fiennes carries the story on his back along with the support of Djimon Hounsou and Gemma Arterton. The ensemble cast is full of talent and big names, but the names alone don’t make for a great film. Rounding out the remainder of the cast is Charles Dance, Daniel Brühl, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Tom Hollander, and Stanley Tucci among others. But it’s a knockout performance by Fiennes that carries this lifeless, stale film to the finish line.
Two misses and one victory should signal the end of a franchise, but money will always talk and therefore a promising start to a franchise will just lose all momentum going forward. There’s even talk of a third Kingsman film to conclude Taron Egerton’s Eggsy story. After seeing Elton John perform fighting stunts, and the imposter play the piano as a hostage to his drug addiction (get it) it further proves that the quality has taken a step back. Just look at Kick-Ass 2. But look at the former X-Men franchise – they kept making those after The Last Stand even with Vaughn breathing new life with First Class.
The King’s Man is dull, unnecessarily long, and misleading, lacking any substance to a promising alternate spy thriller if fans don’t like James Bond. Plenty of action and a strong ensemble cast led by Ralph Fiennes are enough to keep fans mouthwatering for more from this universe. It’s just hard to trust a franchise after the disappointment of The Golden Circle.
Written By: Matthew Vaughn & Karl Gajdusek
Directed By: Matthew Vaughn
Music By: Matthew Margenson & Dominic Lewis
Cinematography: Ben Davis
Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Gemma Arterton, Rhys Ifans, Matthew Goode, Tom Hollander, Harris Dickinson, Daniel Brühl, Djimon Hounsou, Charles Dance
Release Date: December 22, 2021
Running Time: 2 Hours 11 Minutes
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 42%
My Score: 2 out of 5
Based On: The Secret Service by Mark Millar & Dave Gibbons