Matthew Vaughn’s prequel describing the origins of the super-secret intelligence agency, is unfortunately not as much fun as the earlier two films in the franchise
Matthew Vaughn’s Kingsman: The Secret Service in 2014, based on Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons’ comic book The Secret Service, was a jolly, revisionist take on spy movies and James Bond. The suits, demented sidekick, gadgets, puns and megalomaniac villain (Samuel L Jackson was hilarious as tech guru Valentine) with a mind-blowing (pun intended) plan to take over the world was unbridled fun.
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The sequel, Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017), was more of the same with Julianne Moore filling Jackson’s manic boots. The King’s Man, a prequel describing the origins of the super-secret intelligence agency, is unfortunately not as much fun as the other two films.
While featuring an ensemble cast, bizarre villains and sufficiently high stakes, the uneven tone proves its undoing, veering as it does wildly between pathos and bathos. It also takes time to hit its stride.
In 1902, during the Boer War, the Duke of Oxford, Orlando, his wife and son, Conrad, visit a concentration camp as part of their Red Cross efforts. When his wife is killed by sniper fire, Oxford vows to protect Conrad and promises to do his best to keep the world from going to war.
The King’s Man
- Director: Matthew Vaughn
- Cast: Ralph Fiennes, Gemma Arterton, Rhys Ifans, Matthew Goode, Tom Hollander, Harris Dickinson, Daniel Brühl, Djimon Hounsou, Charles Dance
- Story line: The origin story for the ultra-secret service
- Run time: 131 minutes
Twelve years later, Europe is teetering on the brink of war with the monarchs of Russia, Germany and England, who are cousins, threatening to take their schoolroom squabbles onto the world stage. Orlando realises there is a shadowy puppet master who is pulling the strings to provoke unrest and decides the only way to prevent war is to gather intelligence.
He enlists the services of Polly, the nanny and Shola, his general factotum. Polly and Shola tap into the extended network of domestic help for information using the concept of servants being invisible. Not being sure who to trust, high-level meetings are held at Orlando’s bespoke tailor shop, Kingsman.
Real people and events are peppered through the film including the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, which precipitated World War I, the mystic monk Rasputin who held the Russian aristocracy in thrall, Mata Hari, President Woodrow Wilson, Adolf Hitler and Lenin.
The ensemble cast includes Ralph Fiennes (Orlando), Gemma Arterton (Polly), Djimon Hounsou (Shola), Charles Dance (Kitchener, Secretary of State for War), Rhys Ifans (Rasputin), Matthew Goode (Morton, Kitchener’s aide de camp), Tom Hollander (King George, Kaiser Wilhelm and Tsar Nicholas—that is why in the closing credits he appears as Tom Hollander³ ) and Daniel Brühl (Erik Jan Hanussen).
Fiennes is arresting as Orlando — showing he can dance the bullet or Bolshoi with equal ease. Arterton, another James Bond alum, makes for a feisty Polly and has a lot more to do than her Agent Fields… Dance can do this sort of cruel, entitled aristocrat in his sleep and is always fun to watch. The fights and stunts are imaginatively-choreographed; again, not the manic energy of the original. The villain’s lair up in the sky, with goats the usual band of thick security personnel for company looks quite inviting.
While everything that should make for an engaging movie is correct and present, The King’s Man lacks the secret sauce to transport the audience on an adrenalin-fuelled ride.
The King’s Man is currently running in theatres
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