The King's Man

The King's Man

2021, R, 131 min. Directed by Matthew Vaughn. Starring Ralph Fiennes, Harris Dickinson, Djimon Hounsou, Gemma Arterton, Charles Dance, Rhys Ifans, Matthew Goode, Tom Hollander.

REVIEWED By Richard Whittaker, Fri., Dec. 24, 2021

Somewhere around the middle of the gay panic dance/fight sequence involving Rhys Ifans doing a hideous "stranger danger" impression of Tom Baker's Golden Globe-lauded turn as Rasputin, you'll likely question what exactly the purpose of The King's Man is.

After all, this franchise started with a very simple conceit: What if 007 was a Burberry-clad soccer hooligan? The original 2015 film, Kingsman: The Secret Service, was a fun satire of Bond with some very British class-based humor woven through (it ended with the very working-class Eggsy literally sticking it to royalty). So how, only two films later, has it collapsed into ugly, heavy-handed, and po-faced self-pastiche?

What even is The King's Man? Well, it seems like writer/director Matthew Vaughn watched The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles and thought, "I could do that." (He was, tragically for all involved, extremely wrong.) If you don't remember the series, it was George Lucas' way of getting unwilling teens to absorb history, by placing a younger version of his Nazi-smashing archeologist in a series of real-life events that defined the early years of the 20th century, from the opening of Tutankhamun's tomb to the birth of the Blues, and all wars in between. It was witty, smart, and sometimes tragic, and actively encouraged young audiences to seek out the real history. The King's Man is basically the same, but mirthless, dumb, and riddled with disturbing tonal changes.

Vaughn's script (although Karl Gajdusek is equally to blame) is a snickering and bizarrely pompous look at the birth of the Kingsman, the independent secret agency. However, there's little sign of the spy ring until late into this tedious trek around late imperial Europe. The story traipses after pacifist widower aristocrat Orlando Oxford (Fiennes, being very Fiennesian) as he drags his milksop offspring Conrad (Dickinson) through pivotal moments around World War I, with faithful servants Shola (Hounsou) and Polly (Arterton) in tow and occasionally secretly leading the way. A mysterious figure is manipulating world events for a very specific (and, in the context of modern British politics, stupidly tone-deaf) end, so the Oxfords zoom through every major incident, from the assassination of Franz Ferdinand to the trenches of Belgium. All the broad humor of the original film is gone, replaced by clunky and often tasteless gags, and the attempts to extract pathos from genuine tragedies vary from tacky to insulting.

The King's Man wants to be a brief alternative history of the 20th century. It fails. But it does start to show from where that bum sex gag from the first film came.

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READ MORE
More Matthew Vaughn Films
Kingsman: The Golden Circle
The bloody spy series returns

Steve Davis, Sept. 22, 2017

Kingsman: The Secret Service
This comic-book riff on James Bond films finds fun amid the ultraviolence.

Marjorie Baumgarten, Feb. 13, 2015

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS FILM

The King's Man, Matthew Vaughn, Ralph Fiennes, Harris Dickinson, Djimon Hounsou, Gemma Arterton, Charles Dance, Rhys Ifans, Matthew Goode, Tom Hollander

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