I recall seeing and liking Kingsman: The Secret Service when it was released back in 2014.
It had a James Bond film feel and I was a big fan of the Bond movies. It had spy action and adventure with a cranked-up level of violence and gore that gave it a nasty edge.
There was a sequel in 2017 called Kingsman: The Golden Circle, and now a prequel called The King’s Man
that provided the origin story. The timing of its release couldn’t be better, on the heels of the atrociously bad Bond film No Time to Die.
Now that the Bond franchise has jumped the shark, killing its title character in the final reel, a golden moment of opportunity has presented itself for all the Bond movie spin-offs and wannabes.
In that sense, The King’s Man was at the right place at exactly the right time.
Writer/Director Matthew Vaughn, who had directed all three Kingsman movies, in addition to Kick-Ass (2010) and X-Men: First Class(2011), cashes in on the nostalgia of the early 20th century and the popularity of the TV series Downton Abby and the epic sweep of WWI depicted in Sam Mendes’s remarkable, Oscar-winning film 1917.
There is a touch of history thrown in for good measure including the fascinating footnote that England, Russia and Germany were ruled by cousins, two of whom resembled identical twins. It’s the era of Rasputin and Mata Hari, who are also woven into a plot that plays loosely with historical facts.
Re-writing history for the sake of popular entertainment seems to be a trend started by Quentin Tarantino in movies like Inglourious Basterds (2009) and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019). These days, it seems, historical accuracy should never get in the way of a rousing tale, no matter how far-fetched.
For the record, I’m not a fan of this trend. People, in general, are generally pretty clueless when it comes to an understanding of history, largely due to a meltdown in secondary education. Movies like these don’t help matters.
Moving past that point, The King’s Man goes about tracing the roots of this super- secret branch of the British Government.
It’s about a powerfully rich man, Orlando Oxford (Ralph Fiennes) and his beloved only son Conrad (Harris Dickinson). Orlando is a pacifist, following his stint as a decorated soldier.
Conrad wants to follow in his father’s famous footsteps by going off to war to prove his bravery and patriotism to his country.
Despite dad’s objections, he is on a course that leads him to the horrific trench warfare of The Great War.
As is always the case in these epic fantasy films, there is a powerful, evil force looking to either destroy or rule mankind.
Here it is a mysterious, murderous Scotsman who lives atop an impregnably towering plateau.
When he’s not working as a shepherd, he’s planning to rule the world, pitting nation against nation, all according to his megalo-maniacal plan.
We never glimpse his face, but his bald head is reminiscent of James Bond’s long-standing nemesis and archvillain, Ernst Stavro Blofeld.
On paper, all this would seem to be the ingredients of a successful spy thriller. It loses a little in its translation to the big screen.
The King’s Man takes a lot of time to develop the plot. There is a lot of set up before the fun begins.
Things start to get interesting when Oxford and Conrad set out to kill Rasputin, the unkillable Russian mad monk, who may or may not have possessed supernatural powers exercised through his use of hypnotism.
When they learn that Rasputin favors the company of young boys, Oxford doesn’t hesitate to offer the delicately handsome Conrad up as Gay Boy Bait. It’s creepy.
But maybe not as creepy as a scene in which Rasputin gets on his knees to lick an old war wound on Oxford’s thigh. It’s beyond suggestive.
The fight that ensues makes one wonder whether Rasputin studied with the Bolshoi Ballet. The gravity-defying leaps and spins turn what should be a white-knuckle sword fight into something out of a Mel Brooks movie.
Granted, The King’s Man is a stylish movie much like the first two films in the series. The trouble is that much of it is plodding and predictable. We’ve seen so much of it before.
The plateau-top villain’s headquarters is right out of the Bond movie For Your Eyes Only (1981).
In that case, it was an enemy fortress atop a steep, vertical cliff. In this case, it’s a rickety old barn that looks as though it could fall over at any moment.
The King’s Man benefits from the performances of Djimon Hounsou (as Oxford’s servant and fellow warrior) and Gemma Arterton as Polly (his mastermind of a maid who doubles as a deadly sniper, in a pinch).
To its credit, the movie does have an action sequence that is well worth the price of admission. The trouble is that it’s about 20 minutes long and appears very near the end of the film. It is beautifully staged, shot and edited.
The amazing Tom Hollander plays not one, but three roles in the film. And that actually makes historical sense. No spoilers.
The rest of the movie is just backstory and filler. Yes, there is the obligatory additional scene during the final credits that you don’t want to miss, setting the stage for the next installment of this history-bending fantasy.
It’s a lot of eye candy and digital effects, but they are done well.
It’s the story that is lacking despite at least one truly shocking, but not totally unexpected moment that underscores the age-old advice that you should always listen to your parents.
The King's Man is in theaters now.
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