The King’s Man, 2021.
Directed by Matthew Vaughn.
Starring Ralph Fiennes, Gemma Arterton, Harris Dickinson, Rhys Ifans, Matthew Goode, Tom Hollander, Daniel Bruhl, and Djimon Hounsou.
During the early years of the 20th Century, the Kingsman agency is formed as a means of fighting a powerful aggressor and his cabal, hell-bent on pitting nations against one another.
There’re only a handful of directors out there that can match Matthew Vaughn in terms of diversity in their filmography. Let’s take a brief look at his career, shall we? He started off in 2004 with the underrated crime caper Layer Cake, then followed up with the Princess Bride-esque fantasy adventure Stardust based on Neil Gaiman’s novel three years later. He then adapted Mark Millar’s gleefully profane comic book series Kick-Ass for the big screen, and began working on X-Men: First Class for Fox that same year, eying for a 2010 release. Both comic book movies received universal critical and audience acclaim for Vaughn’s ambitious and, more often than not, ballsy approach. After a short hiatus he settled on bringing to life another one of Millar’s properties and thus, the irreverent spy fiction franchise known as Kingsman was born. The King’s Man, which is the latest addition to the fledgling franchise however, differs slightly from its predecessors, in that it is a spin-off which looks at the not-so-humble beginnings of the elite British Secret Service, in the backdrop of the first World War.
The King’s Man follows the journey of an early 20th century British Aristocrat Orlando, the Duke of Oxford who, along with his enthusiastic son Conrad and the more-than-able household domestics Shola and Polly, establish an independent spy network dedicated to protecting the United Kingdom and the British Empire from the approaching Great War. Once again Matthew Vaughn has crafted a fine prequel film which marries his trademark high-octane visual kinetics with the period setting of the narrative. And this makes for quite an interesting combination, but the drawback is the absence of the irreverent humor and over-the-top flair which made the previous installments memorable and unique.
Yes, the inclusion of those aspects would have made for a jarring viewing experience, but I do rather miss it and do wonder how well it could have worked if the above facets were included. Ben Davis’ cinematography is very much on point here, and accomplishes a commendable job at executing Vaughn’s singular vision. Matthew Margeson and Dominic Lewis, who’ve taken over scoring duties from Henry Jackman, turn in a more traditional, orchestral based sound which works admirably in the context of the movie. The biggest gripe I have with the overall film though lies in the story penned by Vaughn and Karl Gajdusek, which reminded me too much of Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. The latter not only executed the premise better, but also featured a more memorable antagonist in the form of Jared Harris.
In terms of performances, how could you possibly go wrong with Ralph Fiennes? Whether the chap is playing a charming British Aristocrat or the very embodiment of evil, Fiennes is a treat to watch. And not only does he convincingly pull off the more physical aspects of the movie but he looks so darn good doing it too. Such is the man’s suave aplomb. The inimitable Tom Hollander outdoes himself here, embodying three different roles- King George, Kaiser Wilhelm and Tsar Nicholas- of historical significance who play an integral role in the story’s proceedings. However, the biggest standout of note was Rhys Ifans as the devilishly diabolical Grigori Rasputin. Chewing the scenery at every turn like a rabid dog, Ifans is simply having a proverbial ball here playing the infamous Russian mystic and he pretty much steals every scene he’s in, I kid you not. A shot out to Gemma Arterton and Djimon Hounsou who also give strong performances in their excellent supportive roles.
Fans of the Kingsman franchise’s previous outings might feel a little let down by the more somber tone of The King’s Man. But if you wouldn’t mind a visually engaging, action driven period piece featuring a rogue’s gallery of historical villainy, this one should be right up your alley.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★/ Movie: ★ ★ ★
Hasitha Fernando is a part-time medical practitioner and full-time cinephile. Follow him on Twitter via @DoctorCinephile for regular updates on the world of entertainment.