Director: Matthew Vaughn
Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Gemma Arterton, Harris Dickinson, Rhys Ifans, Djimon Hounsou, Charles Dance, Matthew Goode, Daniel Brühl, Tom Hollander.
Written by: Karl Gajdusek, (also story) Matthew Vaughn, (based on the comic book “The Secret Service”) Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons.
Running Time: 130 mins
Release date: 26th December 2021
Back in 2014, Kingsman: The Secret Service came out of nowhere and surprised everyone, a madcap, extreme violent spy spoof with a scene that has gone down in cinematic history involving Colin Firth and a church. The film’s success bought The Golden Circle, which tried to capture the sense of fun of the first film but failed to impress. Now, director Matthew Vaughn has returned to the series and delivered a prequel, The King’s Man, which tells how the organisation started. While not a patch on the original, this is marked by the sequel.
The Duke of Oxford is a pacifist after witnessing the death of his wife. Grief-ridden, he is determined to protect his son, Conrad, from joining the army fighting the First World War. Yet Lord Kitchener needs the Duke and his son to investigate the plots involving Britain, Germany and Russia, and try to find a way of ending the war. With the help of Polly, the Duke’s nanny, and Shola, the chauffeur, they try to track down who is pulling the strings behind the war.
Vaughn has never been a subtle director, and here we get the same level of bombastic filmmaking associated with him. The action sequences are brimming with cinematic tricks and camera angles to try and liven up the scenes. Vaughn has managed to calm down during the quieter scenes, allowing the actors to do their job and perform, explaining the plots and developing their characters.
Moving the action to World War One is a smart move that allows the series to feel fresh. This fictional account of the events has some interesting twists, including the likes of Rasputin and Mata Hara to work side-by-side. The plot involves an irate Scot whose anger is aimed at the British, and thus he wants to see the destruction of the country by having the royal cousins of Britain, Germany and Russia, one-upping each other, which leads to war.
Giving the characters room to breathe, we get a deeper understanding of the Duke and his fears for his son. While some of the events have shocked some viewers, it’s an enjoyable slice of escapism if you forget the truth and take this for what it is. Thankfully, Vaughn has removed the bad taste slices of sexism that littered the first two movies. This is a much more severe examination of war and the creation of a secret agency. It does dip slightly in the middle, as the subplot between father and son takes centre stage, but after a surprise twist, the film ends with a huge bang.
The film is helped along by an excellent cast. Ralph Fiennes, who seems to have returned to a less bizarre version of John Steed, is always a classy watch and allows himself to throw himself into some awe-inspiring swordplay. Gemma Artherton, as Polly, is one of those actresses who brings excellence to whatever she does. This time as a brash Northern woman who can certainly handle herself, while Rhys Ifans goes full over-the-top as Rasputin.
The King’s Man does exactly what you expect it to do. It has action, plenty of violence and could lead to a continuation alongside the Kingsman movies. Not perfect and no way near as close to Bond; it still has enough to keep you entertained.
4 out of 5