The King’s Man Review: Irreverent Comedy Takes a Back Seat in an Unexpectedly Dark Prequel

Review Ethan / 2021-12-22 09:02:37

It seems like an eternity waiting for the theatrical arrival of 'The King's Man' — previously known under the working title of 'Kingsman: The Great Game' — after I kept seeing the trailer over and over again each time I went for a Disney/Fox screening. However, it finally arrived and is not as I had hoped.

The irreverent action comedy to which fans and viewers have become accustomed is intact. This is a secondary issue, though. Matthew Vaughn, co-writer and film director of the original films, seems more excited about a change in direction. Instead of taking a seriously serious and dark tone as a World War I historical epic, he opts for something darker.

This prequel to King's Man takes place in the 20th century. The Boer War brought us first to Orlando, Duke of Oxford (Ralph Fiennes), as he witnesses Emily's tragic death (Alexandra Maria Lara). Conrad Shaw, his sole son (Alexander Shaw), has been a loyal pacifist since then.

As the movie cuts to Harris Dickinson (his now-teenager son), he is excited to sign up for the Army to defend his country in the coming World War I. When war is approaching, Orlando insists that he not do so. Orlando is convinced that he can end a war by working discreetly with Shola, his right-hand man and Polly, his housekeeper. These spies could enlist international and domestic servants to gather information on the war.

Vaughn says that although 'The King's Man' focuses heavily on historical war epics, we're still seeing a 'Kingsman' film. This is particularly evident with the introduction of Bond-like villains led by a mysterious mastermind nicknamed The Shepherd, who commands a small group of wicked historical figures such as Grigori Rasputin (Rhys Ifans), Mata Hari (Valerie Pachner) and Erik Jan Hanussen (Daniel Brühl).

Out of all the villains featured in this prequel series, I found Ifans to be my favorite with his outrageous performance as Grigori Racputin. You can see the entire sequence, which ranges from bizarre (you have to watch it to believe it), to completely wild. The latter features the greatest action set piece ever seen in the "Kingsman" franchise. Vaughn's dynamic, stylized camerawork allows Rasputin to engage in a balletic sword battle against Orlando. It has all that boisterous energy and fun that made the original 'Kingsman franchise famous.

Vaughn's prequel shifts tones is an unusual move. However, it takes some getting used to. I found it to be a bit confusing, as most of the first half of the movie is dedicated to setting up and incorporating historical events from real life (e.g. the Boer War, World War I). Although Vaughn does the right thing, Vaughn sometimes slips in revisionist what-if touches. It reminds me of Quentin Tarantino’s 'Inglourious Basterds. The slow pace of 'The King's Man' is a problem. The movie's long runtime (131 minutes) would have been better if the editing was tighter.

The King's Man is still a good film, despite all its jarring tone shifts between the serious/revisionist historical warfare epic and the lighthearted action-comedy feel. There are a few good scenes in this film. Vaughn, aside from the Rasputin scene, establishes the father-son dynamic of Orlando Fiennes to Dickinson's Conrad. Director Vaughn is a versatile director who can portray both the grim reality and human impact of World War I. Next, we have the final action-packed third act. This is where some of the most surprising moments in the movie are revealed such as the fate or the identity of the mysterious mastermind.

Ralph Fiennes, as the unlikely action hero of this prequel is convincing. However, he excels in dramatic moments and the rest of the cast are just as impressive. Gemma Arterton and Harris Dickinson all play strong supporting roles in Conrad, Shola, and Polly respectively. Tom Hollander plays a great role as Kaiser Wilhelm, King George and Tsar Nicholas.


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