To expand upon my quick thoughts in the video, The King’s Man is a war drama action film directed by Matthew Vaughn based on the comic book Kingsman by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons. The film features an ensemble cast that includes Ralph Fiennes, Gemma Arterton, Rhys Ifans, Matthew Goode, Tom Hollander, Harris Dickinson, Daniel Brühl, Djimon Hounsou, and Charles Dance. The third installment in the Kingsman franchise, the film serves as a prequel to Kingsman: The Secret Service. The story follows Orlando, Duke of Oxford, and his formation of the Kingsman spy agency to combat the Shepherd and his mysterious organization that orchestrated the events leading to World War I.
Everything in The King’s Man is beautifully shot. Ben Davis does a great job with the cinematography. His shots take you from the mountains of Scotland to the inside of a submarine, to the ballrooms of Russia. There is a great scene in the middle of the film that takes place in no man’s land that’s phenomenal. The English soldiers have to fight German soldiers for a piece of information without guns. What ensues is a gritty hand-to-hand brawl with knives and other melee weapons that is by far the best scene in the film and probably the best scene in any war film in a long time. The costume design is also excellent and the attention to detail in regards to the wardrobe of the Royals and military men in different countries is exquisite. There is not one anachronistic item to be found.
The cast is filled with solid actors with many of them turning in decent performances. The highlight of which is Rhys Ifans in what turned out to be a minimal role. His portrayal of Rasputin is both comical and menacing. Without knowing beforehand that it was him in the role you wouldn’t know. Sadly, Rasputin bites the dust pretty early on despite being marketed as the main villain of the film. Ralph Fiennes as Orlando turns in a solid performance. Orlando is a bit all over the place as he goes many dramatic arcs from beginning to end making the audience unsure of who he’s supposed to become. Gemma Arterton and Djimon Hounsou are great as Polly and Shola respectively. They are helpers to Orlando and provide much of the comic relief outside Rasputin. They are the brains behind what makes the Kingsman spy agency work. Aaron Taylor Johnson has a very small yet important cameo in the film in regards to the fate of another character. He is mostly in the film as set up for the future as this film sets up a sequel which would be set around World War II.
Matthew Vaughn is superb at creating historical fiction as the framework for his stories. He did this using the Cuban Missile Crisis in X-Men: First Class and he does it again with World War I in The King’s Man. Framing a fictional story in real history helps add to the believability as long as things don’t get too crazy. Matthew Vaughn is a fine director and writer and he is great at starting franchises but he seems to be unable to re-capture the magic in the sequels that he creates in his original films. That being said, The King’s Man is a step up from Kingsman: The Golden Circle but is nowhere near as good as Kingsman: The Secret Service. While there are many great scenes in this film overall the story does feel a bit unorganized. The Kingsman franchise could use some new blood moving forward, however, Vaughn should continue to be attached as an executive producer.
The story does feel muddled like it was two scripts combined into one. It’s part war film and part spy flick and it doesn’t always mesh well. It’s as if the studios had a war film, but since it wasn’t part of a franchise they had Vaughn tinker with it to make it fit into his series. This is maybe why there is a bit of retconning concerning how the Kingsman spy agency was founded. It is mentioned in Kingsman: The Secret Service that the agency was founded after World War I, financed using the fortunes left behind by all the English men who lost their lives during the war. However, in The King’s Man, we find out that Orlando Oxford is the sole financier of the agency, recruiting the original round table and purchasing the Kingsman Tailor Shop as a front.
Titling this film, The King’s Man does that make any sense. While King Geroge V does appear in the film in a small role, he doesn’t have a part to play in the agency until after it is formed. Furthermore, while Orlando’s relationship with the King is close at no point are they shown as best friends, childhood friends, or anything that would make the title of the film make more sense. A more appropriate title would’ve been simply Kingsman, or including the usual subtitle inferring what the film is about Kingsman: Origins, Kingsman: World War I, etc.
The main villain of the film, the Shepherd, is a major disappointment. His plan is more complicated than necessary and you can tell who it is as soon as he appears on screen. This is truly sad because the actor who portrays him has previously portrayed one of the greatest comic book villains of all time in a different film. It would have been better to have Rasputin as the main villain, leaving the Shepherd for future installments as he may potentially have a connection to one of the main characters in the other two films. There is another character, like Rasputin, who appears in all of the marketing for the film that dies halfway through in a quite surprising scene. I do feel that if this were to take place close to the end it would’ve been carried more weight and been acceptable to market them so much. However, since the character’s death happened so early it does make the marketing feel a bit deceptive.
The King’s Man is a mixed bag tonally and story-wise with Vaughn not sure if he wanted to make a serious war film or a cheesy spy flick. I give The King’s Man a Solid 6/10. While not the best the franchise has to offer, it’s just good enough to keep the audience interested in seeing how Vaughn will incorporate the events of World War II in a potential sequel film.
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