While I consider the first movie a work of subversive genius (yes, even the joke about anal), was anyone really clamouring for a Kingsman prequel except director Matthew Vaughn? The second movie, while certainly energetic, left a lot to be desired by taking the central story of a young, British yob and turning him into a refined super spy working for a self financed secret service and making things a bit too silly with the introduction of robot dogs, questionable ressurections and Elton John fly kicking a man while wearing a giant feather ruff you could see from space. However, considering Kingsman movies seem to be all Vaughn wants to make these days (the third film starts filming in September 2022, apparently), I guess I’d better settle down and review it, it’s what a gentleman would do, after all…
It’s 1914, and Orlando, the aristocratic Duke Of Oxford is trying to keep his son, Conrad, from enlisting as the threat of the first World War becomes terrifyingly real after their good friend the Archduke Franz Ferdinand is assassinated by a shadowy conspiracy whilst in their company. Orlando, hugely overprotective of his son since his mother was killed on a mission for the Red Cross in South Africa twelve years earlier, realises that to get to the bottom of this plot in time to halt the war Conrad seems so eager to join may mean giving up his pacifist principles in order to save the world. With the aid of two of his servants; the take-no-shit, sharpshooting nanny, Polly and African blade twirling man servant Shola; Orlando has set up an independent spy network in order to flush out those who would enforce war on the world. However, the shadowy, Scottish, rage-a-holic that sits at the head of the SPECTRE-like operation (Think Blofeld crossed with Begbie from Trainspotting and you’re pretty much there.) has agents of his own that will manipulate world leaders in order to bring about the chaos he craves like a laboratory monkey craves cigarettes. As the members of his cabal that includes such historic wrong-uns such as Rasputin, Erik Jan Hanussen and others bend world leaders to their will by various means, Orlando and his group aim to stop them.
But this heroic group can only do so much and when their planet wide game of chess fails to stop the war from happening, Conrad aims to do everything he can to do his duty like so many other young men before him. But while bodies and dirt rain down upon him, his father races to get the proof he needs to halt the bloodshed before it claims the life of that most dear to him…
So, considering that this is Vaughn’s third entry in the Kingsman franchise in around seven years, it’s slightly disappointing that he doesn’t seem to be getting better at making them as there’s little here to trouble the fantastic original. In fact, the director seems to be far more obsessed with smartly slotting his franchise into human history (a’la X-Men: First Class) than he is with creating a cohesive tone and as a result it varies so much it often feels like multiple movies have crashed into one other. Take the two best setpieces the film has to offer – a whirling fight between our heroes and Rhys Ifans’ sexually voracious Rasputin and a gloomy, horror-esque extended sequence involving the mudcaked no man’s land of World War I – if you were to show both of them to someone completely out of context, they could be forgiven for thinking that the scenes were from two, completely different movies.
There’s also a weird feeling that Vaughn’s over excited attempts to graft the plot of his silly spy epic to the spine of every world changing event that occurred during the war ends up being a little crass with the shooting of Franz Ferdinand and the deaths of untold young men in the trenches being used as blockbuster bait in a franchise were a woman was once tracked by a bug placed up her vagina after a quick spot of fingering… As a result of this, you get the impression that Vaughn has possibly folded a previous desire to make a World War I movie into the cheeky irreverence of his Kingsman movies which results in it neither being truly funny or serious enough to fully succeed at being either.
However, when viewed with a little less emphasis on a consistent tone, The King’s Man begins to prove its mettle by knocking out some banging action scenes. The entire sequence involving Orlando and his support team heading to Russia to eliminate Grigori Rasputin is impressively absurd with a bizarre moment involving the horny monk licking the bullet scar on Ralph Fiennes’ fucked up leg until it heals giving way to the Russian spectacularly dance/fighting three opponents like a frenzied Cossack – although disappointingly not to the sounds of Boney M’s Rasputin as even Vaughn must have deemed that low hanging fruit. Elsewhere a deeply unsettling scene involving Conrad and a group of troops stealthily knife fighting an opposing German force in the middle of no man’s land as not to trigger a fullisade of bullets from either side’s trenches is as nerve wracking as the earlier scene is fucking bonkers. The film ends on a high point too as the 59 year old Ralph Fiennes and the 57 year old Djimon Hounsou show that overblown fight sequences are no place for boys as they stab, shoot and slaughter their way towards the shadowy mastermind with gleefully boundless energy. Fiennes, who seems to be trying to atone for his hideous turn as John Steed in that godawful Avengers update, upgrades from Bond’s M to a super spy himself, aquits himself admirably in the world of frenetic fight scenes much the way Colin Firth did in the original and continues to prove that action scenes featuring older actors needn’t be based around said characters lamenting that they’re too old for this shit.
The other actors don’t fare anywhere near as well, with the need to keep the furious world building taking presidence over character arcs and actors such as Hounsou, Gemma Arterton, Tom Hollander, Charles Dance, Daniel Brühl and Matthew Goode dropping in and out of the film depending on how much they’re actually needed. Even the heroically scraggly looking Ifans – who’s by far the best thing in the film – clocks out by the half way point and the mentor/pupil relationship between Orlando and Conrad doesn’t reach the heights of Harry and Eggsy simply because Harris Dickinson’s character just isn’t particularly interesting until he goes to war.
Loaded with just enough of Kingsman’s trademark humour of mixing Roger Moore’s campest Bond antics with crude, cheeky schoolboy humour to still make it a fun exercise, you have to wonder exactly where else the franchise can possibly go. After all, once you saved the world twice and then decided to warp world history as an encore, you may be feeling that it’s time for the Kingmen to fold up their umbrellas and shut up shop for good.