The King’s Man (2021) – Reel Review

Director: Matthew Vaughn | 2h 11mins | Action, Comedy

On the cusp of World War 1, Orlando Oxford (Ralph Fiennes) tries to stop people from influencing the outcome of the War all while trying to protect his son from joining the fight. 

2014’s Kingsman was a refreshing action movie that wonderfully paid homage to the spy movies of yesteryear balancing it’s spoof and originality perfectly. Somehow, despite such a fantastic opener, they deflated the entire franchise with the sequel a few years later. Looking to recapture the glory of the first movie and sending the Kingsman agency back to its roots, The King’s Man attempts to rejuvenate the tiresome franchise with a fresh coat of scenery and new, even more English, characters. 

The story takes odd twists and turns in it’s 130 minute run time as it tries to balance action set pieces with a half-hearted attempt to comment on the barbarity of war. In fact, it sacrifices a lot of action – really only having three sequences of note – because it gets lost in an oddly paced story about the ethics of war, as well as the conflict between patriotism and survival. 

The film’s protagonist is Orlando Oxford, a Duke that despises war and uses his vast wealth to coddle his son, Conrad from the dangers of the vast world. But when The Great War begins, Conrad finds a sense of patriotism and begs his Father to sign up. The film makes odd choices throughout the story, coaxing us into thinking Conrad will become the inaugural Kingsman with his dashing looks and physique, but instead takes elongated measures to twist and turn until Fiennes emerges as the film’s true hero. 

Despite such a charming cast the film struggles to find the best in each of it’s characters, using them as devices rather than giving them any depth. 

Before we finally get to some action and understand the film’s motivations, there is a comfortable chunk of the runtime dedicated to trench warfare and deep political discussions. So much so that you’d be right to mistake part of the film for a 1917 spoof rather than a spy origin story as it makes its connection to the Kingsman films nearly obsolete at times, with only Vaughn’s signature action style to remind us of where the story is going. 

Along with Fiennes, who commits fully to the stereotype of British gentleman, the cast of The King’s Man is a hefty ensemble of acting quality. Rhys Ifans plays the mystical and conniving Rasputin, Gemma Arteton steals a lot of the show as Polly, Oxford’s maid turned covert spy and Djimon Honsou once again proves how underused he is. But, despite such a charming cast the film struggles to find the best in each of it’s characters, using them as devices rather than giving them any depth. 

At the heart of the war is a network of villains all guided by their leader, ‘Shepherd’. For the majority we see the back of the big boss’ head awaiting the reveal of his identity, a reveal that is sorely predictable and underwhelming. It’s not that the film gives it away with dialogue, but it’s formulaic and predictable style make it obvious from the get-go to anyone who’s really paying attention. 

The franchise now seems to be taking a historical fiction direction with its future, with the likes of Lenin and Hitler setting up a future sequel. While there is hope that Vaughn might one day recapture the success of Kingsman, this prequel pales in comparison. Riddled with inconsistency and barely scratching the surface of it’s attempted sentiment, The King’s Man is barely able to stay connected to it’s spoofy roots. 

Rating: 2 out of 5.

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