The King’s Man Review – Matthew Vaughn’s Kingsman Prequel is Stuck in the Past

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Returning as writer-director, in Matthew Vaughn’s WWI based Kingsman prequel The King’s Man, umbrellas remain a staple of gentlemen spies, however, gadgets and gizmos are replaced (or preceded by given the ‘10s setting) with machetes and sepia tones. 

Having experienced great loss, a former soldier turned diplomat of sorts Orlando Oxford (the perpetually dapper Ralph Fiennes) becomes embroiled in the world of espionage. Aware of his privilege, where his extraordinary life of comfort stands in stark contrast to those experiencing the plight of war, Orlando uses his time to diffuse tension, finding himself heeding the call to enforce peace via an independent organisation that sits outside of government. 

Orlando vows to keep his lithe son, Conrad (Harris Dickinson), out of trouble. It is a task Orlando falls short of his promise when he is tasked to investigate a mysterious and brooding Scottish mastermind, joined by many of the world’s most nefarious despots including Rasputin (Rhys Ifans, a standout) Erik Jan Hanussen (Daniel Brühl), who threatens to turn the tides in Germany’s favour.

Joined by an elite team of adept individuals-turned-spies, the likes including a no-nonsense ‘maid’, Polly (Gemma Arterton, the film giving the only woman character the ‘Mary Sue’ treatment), and accomplice, Shola (Djimon Hounsou), Orlando and co scuffle and scheme their way across the world to prevent further bloodshed. 

Unlike the previous Kingsman films, Vaughan replaces fast-moving spy gear-based tussles – combining the best of visual effects and buzzing camera movement – with more traditional action sequences. This isn’t to suggest that the film lacks in spectacle, with Vaughan and his production team creating some dazzling action scenes (the battle with Rasputin being a showstopper) and embracing a comic book look-and-feel to striking effect. It is a shame that these set-pieces are so far removed from the films that preceded it, with The King’s Man’s setting within history grounding a film series that revels in the outrageous. And then the characters open their mouths, spitting cliche-after-cliche as though they were bullets escaping the barrel of a military rifle.

It feels somewhat of a drawback taking an invigorating film series like The Kingsman, a franchise which has built itself on being a contemporary throwback to spy film’s of yesteryear, and stripping it of its inventiveness. 

The past tells us a lot of what we can expect in future but unfortunately for The King’s Man, it appears to be stuck in it.

Director: Matthew Vaughn

Cast: Ralph Fiennes, Gemma Arterton, Rhys Ifans

Writers: Matthew Vaughn, Karl Gajdusek, (based on the comic book series “The Secret Service” by Mark Millar)

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