Warning: This review contains major spoilers for the film!
After years of delays, Matthew Vaughn’s The King’s Man has officially landed in theaters. Given the success of the Kingsman franchise, a prequel film about the mysterious origins of the first independent intelligence agency was bound to happen sooner or later. But did we need it? Well, that’s a loaded question.
To make things clear before we dive in, The Secret Service and The Golden Circle hold high rankings amongst my favorite films, so I went into The King’s Man expectant and eager. Armed with the promise of seeing Vaughn’s signature style traipse through major historical events flanked by an impressive cast with a promising story, there was much to be excited about. Unfortunately, The King’s Man, while fun, entertaining, and amusing at times, is undoubtedly the weakest entry in the franchise by miles.
Now that’s not to say that there isn’t anything to enjoy about the film. Everyone loves a good villain, but there’s something exceptionally entertaining about a “flock” of seedy characters pulled straight from the history books. I would argue that the Shepherd and his heinous, scheming flock were actually more interesting than the protagonists this time around. Rhys Ifans as Grigori Rasputin is easily one of the best performances that the film has to offer, bringing the Russian mystic back to life in a truly incomparable, hysterical, and downright deranged way. Matthew Goode’s descent into wide-eyed, bloodthirsty madness following the reveal of his true identity as the Shepherd was also excellent. Meanwhile, Daniel Brühl put on a compelling performance, subtly making the most of his screen time as the controlled yet conniving Erik Jan Hanussen (and I’m absolutely here for a potential sequel with him as a lead).
Much of the issue with The King’s Man is that it’s missing the undeniable charm of the two prior Kingsman films. This can potentially be blamed on a mixture of the main cast not finding the same seamless chemistry as Colin Firth, Taron Egerton, and Mark Strong and also the limitations of the time period. Ralph Fiennes, Gemma Arterton, and Djimon Hounsou all found their individual stride and key moments in the movie but never quite hit it together. (And it really didn’t help that Harris Dickinson’s Conrad Oxford was downright bland.) While the first two shine with their vast assortment of gadgets that make them feel like quirkier, edgier Bond movies, The King’s Man is set during World War I, meaning all of that neat technology is still decades upon decades away. It was fun to see teases of what’s to come though, like when Orlando stashed knives in his shoes to help him climb up the side of the icy mountain.
And speaking of the time period, the film’s Kingsman-esque outrageous moments served as reminders of the franchise that this film was born from, but they couldn’t save the tone and pacing from occasionally stumbling throughout as the film dipped into themes of war. As a result of the aforementioned issues, Vaughn’s signature directorial style that makes Kingsman so great fell to the wayside, popping up every now and then instead of carrying the movie with a consistent rhythm. Credit is absolutely due for the directing and choreography of the film’s various fight scenes, though. Leave it to Vaughn to create one of the most mesmerizingly chaotic, strange, and epic fight scenes ever with none other than Grigori Rasputin.
So while The King’s Man has its moments, there’s an obvious feeling of disconnect between it and the prior films. It lacks the frenetic, captivating flow that kept viewers on the edge of their seats from start to finish in The Secret Service and The Golden Circle.
Overall, the origin story’s struggling momentum does still manage to reach a satisfying payoff at the end when the Kingsman officially gather around the table for the first time, and we see the first introduction of the iconic Arthurian code names that have become a staple of the franchise. And when all is said and done, most importantly, I know I’m still on board for any future Kingsman entries that Vaughn has on deck.
(Also, the fact that the Kingsman’s current day oft-uttered phrase about shoes, “Oxfords, not brogues,” was originally meant to be a principle of their integrity, “Oxfords, not rogues“? Brilliant, just brilliant.)
The King’s Man is now playing in theaters.