TL;DR – A war film that does not know what it wants to say about war
Post-Credit Scene – There is a mid-credit scene
Disclosure – I paid for the Disney+ subscription that viewed this film.
The King’s Man Review –
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the first entry into this universe with Kingsman: The Secret Service. I even liked the follow-up Kingsman: The Golden Circle, though I may be alone on that front. So when I heard that there was going to be a prequel, I was interested but also concerned because revisionist histories can land like a thud. And after watching it all, I’m still not sure.
So to set the scene, we open in South Africa, 1902 with Orlando Oxford (Ralph Fiennes) and his wife Emily Oxford (Alexandra Maria Lara) arriving at British Concentration Camp during the Boer War. They were inspecting the facilities for the Red Cross and meeting Lord Herbert Kitchener (Charles Dance) when a sniper kills Emily in the crossfire. 12-years later, the world is careening towards war because a mysterious force is pulling strings behind the scenes, pushing King George of Britain (Tom Hollander), Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany (Tom Hollander) and Tsar Nicholas of Russia (Tom Hollander) into conflict.
Before I dive into some of the many issues with this film, I do want to take the time to explore where it gets things right. The first aspect of that is the casting. Every person in this film is perfectly cast in their roles, with Ralph Fiennes swinging from triumphant honour to being broken throughout the film. Every moment is played with the respect needed in the moment, which means you do feel the pain he goes through. Harris Dickinson works well as the young son stuck between what he thinks is his duty and his father’s pressure. Then you have Tom Hollander pulling triple duty and Rhys Ifans chewing every possible piece of scenery as Rasputin.
Add to this, the production design for the film is all stunning, even in those moments of horror. The touches and references to the other films are fun little moments if you have seen them. This is helped by all the action sequences working well, which given this is the third film, should not be a surprise. They have been working on this particular visual style for quite a while, so they know how to make it work. One of the highlights involved trying to escape a crashing plane, which I kind of wished I had been able to see on the big screen.
Things start taking a turn from the story. The first is how they blend the real and the fantastical. There is an almost penchant for getting the details right, making it jarring when they deviate. There is also the fact that many of these people depicted in the film are real and can be distasteful when they get usurped into this narrative, which is only amplified by the pacing of the film, which can best be described as odd.
However, the big issue comes from the themes that the film is trying to play around with and not quite succeeding. This is a film about war, namely WW1, but it does not know what it wants to say about war. Is war just a cabal of secret evil people pulling the strings, or is it a noble endeavour, or is it where we send our young to die. Is British Imperialism a terrible bane on the world, or is it this fun thing we can celebrate? These disconnects throughout the film, and it rips you out of the narrative.
In the end, do we recommend The King’s Man? Well? Look, if you have seen and enjoyed the past films, you will probably get a kick out of this. Also, some moments shined. However, it is clear they didn’t have a good handle on their themes, and they needed more care in that regard. If you liked The King’s Man, I would recommend to you 1917.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of The King’s Man
Directed by – Matthew Vaughn
Story by – Matthew Vaughn
Screenplay by – Matthew Vaughn & Karl Gajdusek
Based on – Kingsman by Mark Millar & Dave Gibbons
Music by – Matthew Margeson & Dominic Lewis
Cinematography by – Ben Davis
Edited by – Jason Ballantine & Rob Hall
Production/Distribution Companies – Marv Studios, Cloudy Productions & 20th Century Studios
Starring – Ralph Fiennes, Gemma Arterton, Rhys Ifans, Matthew Goode, Tom Hollander, Harris Dickinson, Daniel Brühl, Djimon Hounsou, Charles Dance, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Joel Basman, Valerie Pachner, Alexandra Maria Lara, Olivier Richters, Todd Boyce, Aaron Vodovoz, Ron Cook, Stanley Tucci, Branka Katić, Alison Steadman, Cassidy Little, August Diehl, Ian Kelly, David Kross, Kristian Wanzl Nekrasov & David Calvitto
Rating – Australia: MA15+; Canada: 14A; Germany: 16; New Zealand: R; United Kingdom: 15; United States: R