The King’s Man (20th Century, R)

The King’s Man is in the strange place movies find themselves when a prequel has been made for a series and nobody really asked for it. Not unlike Solo: A Star Wars Story. We like the series as it stands. Do we need to know where every character started or where every faction got it’s beginning? No. Not necessarily. Of course there are exceptions to this principle right? If Solo wasn’t great we had Rogue One, an excellent movie that filled in a plot hole that puzzled fans and critics of the Star Wars universe. Rise of the Planet of the Apes is phenomenal. 

The Kingsman franchise (I guess, though that word feels kinda gross) has been known for its irreverent humor, over-the-top, violent action sequences, and overall grizzled-gentleman vibe. A Scotch neat with some bangers and mash kind of mix. Eclectic but…made with bargain bin supplies. I have long described the films as the poor man’s James Bond. Not because the movies are poorly made or the characters are of the working class (well…) but because they just aren’t as classy. That’s what made them fun little bloody romps. 

What The King’s Man seeks to do is illustrate where this secret Secret Service came from. A question few people had and fewer people will enjoy the answer to. 

Remember everything I used to describe the quirky demeanor of the first two films? Well this movie does away with those characteristics almost entirely. And honestly, the one time it does lean into its strange irreverent humor, I wish I could wash from my brain. Y’all…it is uncomfortably weird. 

The King’s Man takes place in the days leading up to and through the end of the First World War. If that’s any indication for the tone of this film, you’ll realize there isn’t an abundance of humorous material to pluck from the mud of the Ardennes. The plot follows the Duke of Oxford, played well by Ralph Fiennes, and his handsome but dull son Conrad. Harris Dickinson performs fine here, but Conrad’s motivations are dim from the onset. A foolish boy determined to volunteer for the war effort. Mind you, I don’t believe this plot is meant to be silly, but given the events of the film and how everything pans out, it’s hard to not look at the alternative he had to trench warfare and not toss your hands up in furtive disappointment. 

There is foolery afoot, and the world’s leaders have been infiltrated by a secret society seeking the downfall of the British empire. Because of course they have. And what better machination to put into motion the creation of another, more secret, society bent on foiling their plans. Honestly, the plot is about as straightforward as one could have expected from a Kingsman movie. The issue lies in the fact that it tries so hard to differentiate itself from its predecessors that you will genuinely hope each twist and turn isn’t exactly what you would imagine them to be. 

Rhys Ifans as the brooding and wacky Rasputin is at once charming and mystifying. Again, not because of his occult magical proclivities, but rather because more often than not his actions are motivationally dubious and worse, plot negligible. His impact is limited, despite the fact that he holds the role of a key figure, so he plays out more like a dancing decorated pawn: fun to look at, but mechanically limited and little more than distractive cannon fodder. 

The action segments in The King’s Man are full of potential, and several of them are quite entertaining. Sadly the long cut, gritty action cinematography so essential to hand-to-hand combat is very limited, a fact that can almost certainly be the result of focusing your films action on a nearly sixty year old star with few action roles in his impressive past. I have a soft spot for Ralph Fiennes, though, and I found it easy to forgive these missed opportunities. The role and film was obviously a blast for him. I find it difficult to fault a man for that. | Caleb Sawyer

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