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Review: The King’s Man (2021)

The King’s Man (2021)

Directed by: Matthew Vaughn

Premise: A prequel to 2014’s Kingsman: The Secret Service. Set during World War I, English gentleman Orlando Oxford (Ralph Fiennes) forms an independent spy organization that intervenes in the war on behalf of the Allied Powers.

What Works: The cast of The King’s Man includes Rhys Ifans as Grigori Rasputin. The film picks up whenever Ifans is on the screen. He’s threatening and eccentric but also strangely charming and we’re left to wonder what a film about Rasputin with Ifans in the role could have been. The cast also includes Ralph Fiennes as an English gentleman who is a pacificist but his son (Harris Dickinson) wants to enter the military. Fiennes plays his role as though he’s in a straightforward period piece which gives the movie some credibility and the tension between father and son is effective.

What Doesn’t: The King’s Man is the origin story of the spy agency introduced in the 2014 film. The inherent challenge for prequels is finding a compelling reason to exist. A good prequel changes and deepens our understanding of the existing characters or conflicts. The King’s Man doesn’t do that. Aside from revisiting the tailor shop, there’s very little connecting this film to the other movies. The origin of this organization is not interesting and the film never justifies its existence. The King’s Man has a number of other problems. There are a few good individual performances in this film but none of the actors are on the same page. Ifans and Fiennes in particular don’t look like they are acting in the same movie. The film takes forever to get going. The first half of The King’s Man is quite slow. The filmmakers take far too long setting up the conflicts and then rush through four years of war. That leads to one of the most egregious aspects of The King’s Man. The film is a comic book adventure built around true events. We’ve seen that before and it can be done well, as filmmaker Matthew Vaughn did previously with X-Men: First Class. But The King’s Man takes a stupid and distasteful approach. The film posits that World War I was the result of a conspiracy masterminded by a shadow organization whose members include real-life figures such as Grigori Rasputin and Erik Jan Hanussen (Daniel Brühl) but the filmmakers don’t use them or these historical events with any purpose. The King’s Man also ropes Vladimir Lenin (August Diehl) into this conspiracy, positing that the Russian Revolution was part of the master plan. Unlike Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, which fictionalized history and historical figures to an interesting and provocative end, this is stupid and flatting and trivializes the horrors of World War I.

Bottom Line: The King’s Man fails on virtually every level. It doesn’t deliver as an action picture, the storytelling is inept, and the performances are a grab bag of scenery chewing. This film continues the franchise’s descent into stupidity.

Episode: #886 (January 9, 2022)