Movie Review: ‘The King’s Man’

Director: Matthew Vaughn

Cast: Ralph Fiennes, Gemma Arterton, Djimon Hounsou, Rhys Ifans, Harris Dickinson, Matthew Goode, Tom Hollander, Daniel Brühl, Charles Dance, Aaron Taylor-Johnson

Plot: At the outset of WWI, the Duke of Oxford along with his son and house staff lay the foundations of an international spy ring who would become the Kingmen.

Review: Director Matthew Vaughn seemed to be kicking off a bold new franchise of modern – and slightly barmy – spy adventures with Kingsman: The Secret Service in 2015. It had a big cast, was a huge success, but the anticipated sequel failed to deliver the goods. With a direct sequel in the works already, we’ve taken a divergent path for a prequel movie set some 100 years prior and exploring the origins of the Kingsman agency as a response to the first World War.

The action follows Orlando Oxford (Fiennes), a former soldier and aristocrat who never wants to see his son Conrad be embroiled in war. With the assassination of Arch-Duke Franz Ferdinand, and war spreading across Europe, Conrad (Dickinson) insists that he should enlist to help with the conflict. To prevent this, Oxford creates an intelligence network of house staff across the world to try and put a stop to the fighting between Germany, England and Russia. He uncovers a secret organisation pulling the strings by placing its members in positions of influence in political circles.

It feels a bit odd to be focusing in on this story at this point of the franchise. After The Golden Circle, we need a sure-fire hit to get our current stories and characters back on track. Instead we’re putting everything on hold to introduce a new group of characters and lay out the convoluted creation of the Kingsmen. Everything takes longer than necessary to play out, with an entire plot thread about Clayton taking the identity of a new characters who continues to appear through the movie without doing anything. Every plot point could be trimmed down to make room for the characters to do more.

For the most part, the new characters are all plenty of fun. What lets them down is that there is so many of them and so much happening in the story that we don’t get to know them enough to be invested in them. The Shepard, the mysterious bad-guy organising WWI, has a whole bunch of sinister real-life characters manipulating world leaders but only Rasputin (Ifans) gets any screen time. When he gets taken out about halfway through the film we expected another one to step up to the plate but they rush through to the end and it doesn’t happen. Brühl as Erik Jan Hanussen doesn’t wind up doing anything, and Valerie Pachner as Mata Hari becomes a plot point but it mostly happens off-screen.

This isn’t necessarily the fault of the film, but the whole time we saw The Shepard from the back and heard his voice I thought it was David Tenant. The actual reveal is much less fun than that.

The depiction of the war is a solid part of the adventure. Everything is miserable and horrific, with the cause of the conflict being represented as upper-class squabbling. It’s a good motivation for the characters to create their spy organisation with the intent of preventing the mass slaughter of war. Incorporating historical figures is a great idea, and they work well, but don’t get enough screen time to make the most out of it. The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand plays out in an amusing manner, taking advantage of the weird turn of events that played out on that day.

Ultimately this is an occasionally exciting spy-based action-adventure, but it gets bogged down telling a backstory to the existing films instead of investing us in the new cast. Ralph Fiennes feels like the only one who has a genuine character arc, and it’s all so heavily telegraphed that you know how it’s going to play out well in advance. Then there’s that post credits scene. Maybe don’t do that.

Rating: SIX out of TEN