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The King’s Man (2021) – Review – A Slightly Unnecessary Prequel That Is Saved by Some Fun Action Scenes

December 16, 2021

Quick Thoughts – Grade – C+ – The King’s Man isn’t as effective as its predecessors because it loads up on sincerity, and still wants to be a Kingsman movie. There are several effective action scenes, and cool visuals, but it feels like three totally different movies competing for space.

The best moment in The King’s Man happens when characters Orlando Oxford (Ralph Fiennes), Conrad Oxford (Harris Dickinson), and Shola (Djimon Hounsou), engage in a spirited battle with the mad, bad and dangerous Grigori Rasputin (Rhys Ifans – Having a blast, and stealing every scene he’s in). The back and forth battle that was thought up by director Matthew Vaughn is fun, fast, and wonderfully violent. The scene feels like vintage Kingsman, and it makes the rest of the film feel like a slog, as it leans heavily into sincerity and revisionist history, which never really feel like they belong. Many critics have noted that The King’s Man is what happened when Vaughn wanted to make a WWI film, and decided to do it by taking his Kingsman IP, and stuffing it into the timeframe. This assumption feels correct as the elements never really gel, and the end result is tonally uneven and is slightly saved by watching Ralph Fiennes go full action hero. 

The King’s Man revolves around the events that start and end World War One. The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria is still the catalyst, and the assasination planned by a Blofeld-esque secret villain pits the nation of King George, Kaiser Wilhelm, Tsar Nicholas (all played by Tom Hollander in a cheeky bit of casting) against each other, and leads to a whole lot of trench warfare and death. While the three nations are killing each other, a group lead by Orlando Oxford, and his allies Shola and Polly (Gemma Arterton) have to figure out a way to save the United Kingdom, by stopping the war, to make sure the country isn’t overrun. To do this, they need to keep Russia in the war, battle a nefarious supercriminal, and convince the United States to enter the skirmish. Normally, this much plot would be enough for two films, but Vaughn also adds in a father and son story between Orlando and his son Conrad, who desperately wants to join the war effort, but is thwarted by his overprotective dad, who doesn’t want to see him die in combat. Their relationship and its struggles weigh down the film, as the added sincerity, and constant bickering are not organic. Their relationship feels like a plot device that gets Orlando from point A to point B, and feels like it’s part of another movie. 

The King’s Man is at its best when the action kicks off, and there are several fun action scenes involving silent knife fights, and Ralph Fiennes dangling from an airplane that make you wish Vaughn leaned into the action more. It is refreshing that he tried something new with the prequel, but the added elements and relationships do not blend well with Kingsman shenanigans. Also, if the prequel fully leaned into the insanity showcased in the first two films, the revisionist history would make sense. However, with the added sincerity, the wild events and twists feel glaringly out of place. I’d love to mention what happens at the end, but it would spoil the film, just know that the actions of Orlando and his crew save millions, but result in a future where many more millions are killed. Basically, all Orlando and his crew want to do is save England, and they don’t care if anybody else around the world dies.

Final thoughts – Watching Ralph Fiennes battling Rhys Ifans is worth the price of admission, and there are several fun action scenes, but, overall, The King’s Man doesn’t totally justify its existence.

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