The King’s Man Review

The Kingsman series is one that I’ve been a bit mixed on from the start. I really enjoyed The Secret Service, but found that the last joke in the film ended the film on a sour note, whilst I found that The Golden Circle, whilst well directed, followed up on the worst tendencies of The Secret Service. Now we’ve got The King’s Man, and whilst I think this is an improvement on The Golden Circle, it does not quite reach the heights of The Secret Service.

The film focuses on Orlando, the Earl of Oxford, a noted pacifist who is trying to avoid his son Conrad from getting involved in warfare at all costs, following the death of his wife during the Boer War. As the film goes on, we see that Orlando tries to prevent the chain of events that leads to World War 1, but ends up failing. It soon turns out that the events that led to war have been orchestrated by a shadowy group of historical figures, including Rasputin, Mata Hari and Gavrilo Princip, and Conrad sets about stopping their plans, leading up to the formation of the Kingsman spy agency. The main problem I had with the film is the tone, in that it never quite gets the tonal balance right. It does a good job at highlighting the horrors of World War 1 and other historical evils done by the British, notably starting at one of the concentration camps the British set up during the Cold War, but then we get scenes of the villains all huddled around a table together like they’re the Legion of Doom. There are good individual scenes for the more grounded and darker tone and the more bombastic tone, but when placed together they don’t mesh and ended up taking me out of the film. It also doesn’t help that the complexity and grim nature of World War 1 doesn’t work for the tone of the Kingsman series. Comparing this to something like Wonder Woman, that film was more focused on addressing the darkness of the war and the story fit the nature of the war, but this film doesn’t get the balance right. Given the history set up for Kingsman in The Secret Service, it had to take place during World War 1, but the story could have matched the nature of the war better. I also found the callbacks to the earlier Kingsman films to be fairly mixed, some bits coming across as charming easter eggs, but others feeling fairly forced and just in there for obligations sake.

The performances I felt to be a mixed bag overall. Ralph Fiennes is absolutely the right choice to play the founder of Kingsman. He has this regal, refined nature that fits the vibe established for Kingsman in the earlier films and he does a good job in the action scenes and especially in the dramatic scenes. Rhys Ifans as Rasputin is hamming it up to high heaven and is clearly having a blast playing the character and this infectious fun does transcend to the audience. I liked having Tom Hollander play King George V, Kaiser Wilhelm II and Tsar Nicolas II, as a historical joke, and he does a good job playing the more refined nature of King George against the over the top antics of Kaiser Wilhelm and Tsar Nicolas, although the childish nature of the way the three are presented does tie into the tonal problems. Harris Dickinson as Conrad I found to be fairly bland, he doesn’t have the same charisma that Taron Egerton has and as such his scenes don’t quite work, whilst Djimon Hounsou and Gemma Arterton are charismatic and add a good bit of personality to the film, but their parts felt a bit underwritten. Some cast members like Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Daniel Bruhl and Stanley Tucci are really underutilised and are clearly in the film to set up their characters for the inevitable sequel.

The technical elements of the film are well handled. The costume design and production design are fitting in recreating the world during the 1910s, with there being suitably stylisation, most notably in the scenes with Rasputin, along with doing a good job at showing the horrors of World War 1. The action scenes demonstrate that Matthew Vaughn is one of the best action directors of this style working today. None of the scenes have the inventiveness of the action in the earlier Kingsman films in terms of cinematography, but there is still a good sense of flow and movement throughout, especially the action scenes with Rasputin, which have a deliberate balletic quality to them.

Overall, I found The King’s Man to be a mixed bag overall. A lot of the performances are solid and it is well directed, but the tonal issues throughout the film prevent this from reaching the heights of The Secret Service. There is enough good stuff in here to make me excited for a sequel, which hopefully can manage the tone better, but I was ultimately disappointed with this.

My Rating: 2.5/5

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