Action Adventure

Review: ‘The King’s Man’ Marks a Prim and Proper Departure from the Action-Packed Comedy of the Hyperkinetic ‘Kingsman’ Franchise

December 22, 2021Ben MK

Best known for such tongue-in-cheek romps as Kick Ass, Kingsman: The Secret Service and Kingsman: The Golden Circle, Matthew Vaughn is a director who has built a career out of making hyperkinetic action movies with a comedic twist. For his latest film, though, Vaughn is taking a more measured and dramatic approach. Set largely during the first World War, the Kingsman prequel The King's Man tells the tale of how one man's grief and another man's sacrifice paved the way for the formation of the world's most bespoke secret intelligence agency. But with Eggsy and Harry Hart nowhere to be found, will this third entry in the comic book-based franchise find its footing with audiences?

Beginning in 1902, the story follows Orlando Oxford (Ralph Fiennes), a highly decorated British officer on a humanitarian mission on behalf of the Red Cross. But after his wife Emily (Alexandra Maria Lara) is killed, Orlando makes a solemn vow never to pick up another weapon. Fast forward 12 years, and Orlando is forced to reconsider his stance on violence when a mysterious anarchist known as the Shepherd hatches a sinister plot to plunge the world into all-out war. Operating out of a remote, mountain-top lair, the Shepherd has recruited a group of loyal followers that includes Grigori Rasputin (Rhys Ifans), Erik Jan Hanussen (Daniel Brühl) and Mata Hari (Valerie Pachner), and together, they set their sights on toppling the governments of England, Germany and Russia by exploiting the tenuous relationship between King George, Kaiser Wilhelm and Czar Nicholas (all played by Tom Hollander). What the Shepherd doesn't count on, however, is Orlando, who's determined to combat this unprecedented global threat by assembling a group of trusted compatriots of his own.

Aided by his right-hand man Shola (Djimon Hounsou) and maid-turned-sharpshooter Polly (Gemma Arterton), Orlando embarks on a series of missions aimed at thwarting the Shepherd's dastardly schemes. It's Orlando and Emily's 19-year-old son Conrad (Harris Dickinson), though, who will prove integral to saving the world. A young man eager to do his part for his country, Conrad has spent the majority of his life being shielded from any and all danger from his overprotective father. But now that the danger is at their doorsteps, Orlando has no choice but to abide by Conrad's wishes. What follows sees this father-son duo journeying across Europe, as they set out to protect the Archduke Ferdinand and to assassinate Rasputin himself. However, when tragedy strikes yet again, will our heroes muster up the courage to complete their assignment? Or will the Shepherd get his way, annihilating humanity's hope for peace and leaving a blood-stained legacy for generations to come?

A somewhat uneven mashup of Downton Abbey-esque period piece, 1917, and the previous two Kingsman installments, the result isn't what fans of the subversive spy series have come to expect. Yet, despite the departure from the tried-and-true formula Vaughn first established back in 2014, the movie does eventually manage to come together spectacularly in its final act. Thanks to a thrilling aerial sequence and a crowd-pleasing showdown high above the ground that's guaranteed to give those with an aversion to heights sweaty palms, viewers won't be left wanting for an action-packed climax. For the most part, though, The King's Man is all set-up and world-building, something that was already accomplished by a few minutes of exposition in the first film.

It may be slightly disappointing, but in the grand scheme of this ambitious followup, it's ultimately not a total loss. After all, the Kingsman franchise has always had a distinct air of Britishness about it. It's just that in The King's Man, Vaughn brings all of that out in full force. As historically inaccurate as it most certainly is, and as unnecessary as it might be, this is one prequel that dares to do something different, rather than conforming to audience expectations. And while that may not be worth a medal of honor, it's at least worth admiring.

The King's Man releases December 22nd, 2021 from 20th Century Studios. The film has an MPAA rating of R for sequences of strong/bloody violence, language, and some sexual material. Its runtime is 2 hrs. 11 min.

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