“In the early years of the 20th century, the Kingsman agency is formed to stand against a cabal plotting a war to wipe out millions.”

Director: Matthew Vaughn
Writers: Matthew Vaughn, Karl Gadjdusek, Mark Millar
Staring: Ralph Fiennes, Gemma Arterton, Phys Ifans, Harris Dickinson
Release Date: December 22, 2021

In 2014, Matthew Vaughn brought the world one of the best action movie surprises of the past decade with Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014). In 2017 Vaughn looked to reignite the excitement around Eggsy (Taron Egerton) with Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017). The results of the sequel were, mixed, so the franchise needed a rebrand.

The fresh approach to The Kingsmen was to not move forward, but to go backwards. Vaughn wrote a script with Karl Gadjdusek and Mark Millar soon after The Golden Circle was released, but the process for The King’s Man (2021) to come to screen was a long and laborious one. This prequel to the Kingsman universe was meant to be released in November of 2019, then February 14 of 2020, then September 2020, then February 2021, then August 2021, and then finally, December 22, 2021. One could argue that 20th Century Studios, Marv Films and Marv Studios were expecting big things from The King’s Man with the continuous postponing. However, a second argument could be that the studios didn’t feel the urge to push this movie out because it was substandard.

I am sorry to report that the second of said arguments is true. The King’s Man is a disappointing venture back into the world of old English espionage. Vaughn continues his gung-ho directional style, but the brashness is not met with fluidity. If you have an apprehension about quick-cuts and over-saturated storytelling, then avoid The King’s Man. If you are willing to go for a ride with a movie that leaks with liabilities like a sieve, then strap in for a fun mess.

The King’s Man takes place in the 20th century when Europe is about to erupt into chaos. Orlando Oxford (Ralph Fiennes) is a man embattled with the inner turmoil of keeping his son Conrad (Harris Dickinson) safe from the dangers of the world, but also keeping England safe from foreign problems. Oxford has help in his secret self-appointed quest from Polly (Gemma Arterton), Shola (Djimon Hounsou) and his overeager son. Together the quartet must figure out how to prevent England from being swallowed in World War I by the malevolence of Germany and Russia.

Let’s delve into the fun stuff, and the not so fun stuff.

Without a doubt, the best part of The King’s Man is the character of Grigori Rasputin, played by Rhys Ifans. No character in this movie has more memorable moments or lines than the crazed zealot of Russia. Ifans must have have interpreted this script while on mushrooms because his performance is outlandish in every which way. He dances across the screen (literally at times) and puts every other character in the spin cycle.

There is a scene in this movie where Rasputin has legit magical healing powers and as crazy as The King’s Man is, that is utterly believable in the atmosphere created by the performance. At the risk of potential spoilers, Rasputin has this spiritual event of first aid with Orlando Oxford. Together they have a sensual experience (yes, you read that right) that involves a scar on a leg, rapid licking and explicit moaning.

Now I will delve into spoilers. So don’t read the italicized paragraphs if you plan on watching the movie.

Conrad maneuvers his way to the front line for World War I by taking the name of a soldier and trading spaces. The trenches are not a kind place, and Matthew Vaughn does a solid job of illustrating so. There is a very cool hand-to-hand fight scene under the cover of darkness the features Conrad showing off the training his father has given him. As the lone healthy survivor returning to the England trenches, Conrad is revered as a hero. But that is short lived.

A fellow Englishman notes how Conrad does not have the speaking Scottish accent his name should indicate, a sight on scene, this random Englishman calls out Conrad as a spy as shoots the young man right in the forehead. I will be damned, I personally did not see that coming. The second most important character in the movie is dead.

Now I have to raise the question though: What was the purpose of having Conrad shot by his own man? When it was reported to Orlando, it was said that he was killed in the line of duty. The way the circumstances play out after Conrad’s death put no extra emphasis on the way he died. It is a shock, that is for sure, but it serves no story purpose. It makes the events more forgettable, and such a moment like that doesn’t deserve to be an after thought.

Alright, end of the spoilers.

The King’s Man‘s main plot centers around the major parts and characters of World War I, but in this fictionalized world, there is a mysterious mad man who works off of a remote island puppeteering (side note, I typed it puppeting and boy is it different than what I intend) the madness. To anyone who pays enough attention, the reveal of the villain at the films climax is not surprising. Also, the final battle itself, it is not the most fun finale for an action movie. Sure there are fun moments, but as a whole, the entire showdown between the Duke Of Oxford and the man of mystery fails to deliver on the madness Kingsman movies promises.

Perhaps some of the blame the action in the third act falls at the feet of Ralph Fiennes. This is not an inditement on the man’s acting by any means, but the age of Fiennes and the physical nature that which he plays the part of Oxford is apparent. Colin Firth pulled off the old man kicking ass in the original. That same energy is missing here. It is an intangible quality that Firth was able to invoke, and Fiennes can’t quite get there.

One other small nit-pick with The King’s Man is fact that THE VILLAIN IN THE STORY SAYS “MANNERS MAKETH MAN”??? I mean I would have loved for this phrase to have some significance or profound story behind it, but instead it is flippantly said near the end of the movie. How about putting this phrase in a letter that Conrad sent to his father notifying him that he is in fact going to the front lines. Or have the soldier who delivered the message of Conrad’s duplicity say it on Conrad’s behalf? That way “manner’s maketh man” means something to The Kingsman organization. The founder of this secret society can bestow upon his followers the lesson that his son was able to teach him with his bravery. Also it can COME ON WRITING CREW, DO BETTER.

Now before ending, some credit can be given to the writers. I won’t completely bash them. There is a line in The King’s Man that I do love.

“…reputation is what people think of you. Character is what you are.”

Duke Of Oxford

I will be stealing this line for my own life going forward, as I did with “manners maketh math.”

The King’s Man no doubt a relative of its predecessors, but the relationship is distant, if not estranged. Vaughn and company made something that is without a doubt entertaining for anyone looking for a passable time. If you are looking for a memorable one, it may be just just to rewatch the original and bask in Eggsy and Harry Hart’s (Colin Firth) charisma. The King’s Man swings with as much confidence as its originators, but the attempts miss the mark more often than not.

STANKO RATING: C- (2.0/5 Stars)

P.S. This is a random tid-bit to folks reading this. Don’t be a despicable human and leave your trash all over the movie theater when the movie is over. When I left the theater after seeing The King’s Man, a group of high schoolers left the back row looking like college dorm after a freshman’s attempt to throw a party. I mean come one people, just be decent.

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