The Kingsman movies have been, quite literally, hit and miss with me. The first one was a surprise hit, a self-aware James Bond tribute film that put an emphasis on chivalry and style. The second film, The Golden Circle, was a bloated mess that abandoned many of the fun little lessons of the first and brought back Colin Firth’s character, undermining the shocking twist of his death in the first film. The King’s Man promised to be a deviation from the primary narrative, showcasing the origins of the secret service circa the First World War. So, does this film, which was delayed numerous times (it first appeared on our most anticipated 2019 list), right the wrongs of The Golden Circle or should this film have stayed on the shelf?
The King’s Man stars Ralph Fiennes as Orlando Oxford, a Duke who, after witnessing the death of his wife in the Second Boer War, vows to become a pacifist and protect his son from all manner of wars. This turns out to be easier said than done as Archduke Ferdinand is assassinated, triggering the Great War. Oxford begins to build up the foundations of what will eventually become the Kingsman service as he tries to gather intelligence on a way to help end the conflict.
That’s the story in a nutshell, but surprisingly, The King’s Man is a much more dramatic film than I was expecting. The modern-day Kingsman movies are very self-aware, cheeky, and crass films, indulging in ultra-violence and crude humour. The first one found a sweet spot for this but overindulged in the sequel. I went into The King’s Man expected, well, a Kingsman movie. But what was on offer was, for the most part, a far more dramatic period piece. Think Wonder Woman meets Downtown Abbey byways of Mission: Impossible. The movie isn’t so focused on gentlemanly lessons, but more about the conflict at large.
Ralph Fiennes is quite entertaining as Oxford, an old-school aristocrat who finds himself in a notable company, including the King of England. But while he’s working on the war efforts, from a non-combatant point of view, he’s also juggling with his son, Conrad (Harris Dickinson), who is desperately trying to join the fight. Young and determined to make his country and father proud, Conrad grows weary of the sidelines and being called a coward for his inaction. The two have very stark views on how to handle the conflict and it is interesting seeing the duo butt heads.
The film also boasts a stacked supporting cast. Joining Oxford in his intelligence gathering are Gemma Arterton as Polly and Djimon Hounsou as Shola, who also get in on the action as well and are equally entertaining. Daniel Brühl, Charles Dance, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Matthew Goode, and Tom Hollander all join in with supporting roles, with Hollander being tasked with playing King George VI, Kaiser Wilhelm, and Tsar Nicholas (as the three were cousins).
While the film is far more dramatic, where it falls into its old ways is a part of the movie that feels like a huge misstep. That’s with Rhys Ifans as Rasputin. Ifans is completely off his rocker in the role and the scene where Oxford and company visit Rasputin in Russia feels like something out of a different movie. It’s zany, unhinged, forced, unfunny and is the weakest part of the movie, so much so that his performance acts as a blight on the movie. Likewise, the movie is a little predictable, as I called one of the major plot points early on in the movie. But the film is not without its surprises.
But in all honesty, Rasputin is the only real issue I have with the movie. I went into it with very low expectations. But the shift to a more dramatic effort (though with plenty of stylized action!), no crass and forced humour (for the most part) and a talented ensemble cast with an interesting period setting made The King’s Man actually enjoyable to watch. I would be more than interested in seeing a follow-up to this movie, more than a follow-up to The Golden Circle at this point in time – that or a new spin-off set against the Second World War.
I hope you enjoyed this review and be sure to check out more of our content at ScreenHub Entertainment such as our podcast breaking down the SuperBowl trailers or my review of the Reacher series from Amazon Prime!