The King’s Man

Review by Rich Cline | 2.5/5

The King's Man
dir Matthew Vaughn
scr Matthew Vaughn, Karl Gajdusek
prd Adam Bohling, David Reid, Matthew Vaughn
with Ralph Fiennes, Gemma Arterton, Djimon Hounsou, Harris Dickinson, Rhys Ifans, Matthew Goode, Charles Dance, Tom Hollander, Daniel Bruhl, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Stanley Tucci, Alexandra Maria Lara
release US 22.Dec.21,
UK 26.Dec.21
21/UK 20th Century 2h11

arterton hounsou ifans
See also:
The Secret Service (2015) The Golden Circle (2017)

Is it streaming?

fiennes and dickinson
For this 100-years-earlier prequel, filmmaker Matthew Vaughn attempts to weave together the comically cartoonish hyperviolence of the Kingsman movies with a high-brow British war thriller. So while there are moments in which both approaches work well, thanks largely to the first-rate cast, watching it gives the audience a severe case of whiplash. There's the potential for an exhilarating adventure, but it's just too uneven to hold the attention.
After turning to pacifism, Orlando the Duke of Oxford (Fiennes) has raised his now-grown son Conrad (Dickinson) in a bubble of protection, with brainy Polly (Arterton) as nanny and skilled fighter Shola (Hounsou) as bodyguard. But as war breaks out in 1914 Europe, Conrad wants to fight for Britain. Meanwhile, General Kitchener (Dance) and his sidekick Morton (Goode) are trying to find out who is stoking animosity between first cousins King George V, Kaiser Wilhelm and Tsar Nicholas (Hollander times three). So Orlando forms a secret spy network to try to diffuse the situation.
Literally lurking in inky shadows is a faceless Scottish goatherd undermining peace with goons like Rasputin (Ifans), Austrian manipulator Hanussen (Bruhl) and others. Many are actual historical figures who have been bent into the narrative by the screenwriters (and graphic novelist Mark Millar). This piques the interest, adding cool intrigue even as the film continually shifts into over-the-top silliness. There's superb action choreography here and there, but most set pieces consist of either mindlessly grisly shooting/stabbing or over-animated effects.

Each actor rises above the material. Fiennes holds the film together with gravitas and repressed emotion, stepping ably into outrageously physical action. But the character is inconsistent, quickly abandoning his deep-held beliefs. Less defined and therefore more fun are Arterton and Hounsou as skilled cohorts, plus the thoughtful, eager Dickinson in an oddly underwritten role. Ifans has fun camping it up as the slimy, sleazy Rasputin, and Hollander is hilarious in his three moustachioed roles.

Frankly, exaggerated violence like this is boring when it's played with a straight face, unlike the gleefully deranged gore in the Kingsman movies. And while some quieter, more deeply felt events give the film a nice kick of resonance, the general rush to mayhem feels both distracting and pointless. It's still fun to see real-world history warped by some fictional silliness. And it's always great to see likeable stars pop up along the way, even if they're only here in roles that feel like hurried introductions to set up a sequel.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 10.Dec.21

R E A D E R   R E V I E W S

send your review to Shadows... The King's Man Still waiting for your comments ... don't be shy.

© 2021 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall