Let’s talk about The King’s Man.
Kingsman: The Secret Service is one of the sleeper hits of the last decade. It was based on a graphic novel no one had ever heard of with a young lead who was yet to become a star. But it’s combination of stylish action and bawdy humour made it a huge success and it soon became an iconic film. The Gold Circle would follow a few years later and while it doubled down on everything that made the original great, it perhaps did too much doubling down and no matter what you think of it, it definitely was a flawed movie. Not wanting to continue down that route, this time we’re going right to the beginning of the secret service with The King’s Man.
The Duke of Oxford is a pacifist determined to stop war despite his son being desperate to sign up to fight in World War I. However when it is discovered that Rasputin is looking to influence the Russian Tsars into pulling out of WWI, he is persuaded to go on a mission to stop it.
So what is the Kingsman style? By that I mean, what makes a Kingsman film a Kingsman film? That becomes very important when none of the recognisable characters return for this one. After all, you can see a James Bond film from the 1960s and then watch one from the last decade and while they are very different in many ways, you can tell that they are the same franchise. That’s the first struggle with this movie. Kingsman’s thing was always ‘high class crass’. While it’s characters were high class people with tailored suits, they would swear a lot, there’d be very crass sex references and the action would end with a lot of blood and guts being chucked around. This film has plenty of the high class, but doesn’t combine that with any of the crassness. So while the characters are likable and it’s not like any of what is presented is bad, it doesn’t feel like a Kingsman film for the bulk of its running time. Not an issue on it’s own but if you’ve bought a ticket for this film on the basis you’re getting more Kingsmany stuff, you may be disappointed.
It starts to feel more like a Kingsman film when the action starts. With Matthew Vaughn directing, you get his very unique style of action. What I like is that everything today is either trying to be Jason Bourne or John Wick, but his action is definitely more on the stylistic video game side of things. With this being the same style that dominated the first two Kingsman films, it starts to feel like it belongs to the franchise. And it leads to some pretty awesome scenes. Vaughan combines his action with his music very well and that shows when we see a fight with Rasputin. Because Rasputin is Russian, his fighting style is based on ballet and when you match that with the 1812 Overture, it leads to a very memorable action scene. It’s also worth mentioning that when you get to the final action scene, more of the Kingsman style starts to move in and that is very well received by me.
I also like how this film neatly avoids sequelitus. You know what I’m talking about. There’s an iconic line or prop in the main film, and then there’s a cheeky offline in the prequel which sets it up or shows you the origin, there’s a cheeky wink by the music as the film grinds to a halt as it shoves you shoulder shouting ‘GET IT LIKE THE OTHER FILM YOU LIKE MORE’. While this film definitely has it’s origin moments, it does avoid trying to make more of them then they actually you. I didn’t realise that the Duke of Oxford’s manor house is the training base of Kingsman that we see in the first and then gets blown up in the second. And then there’s the little cool moments that end up being key in this film but you see how they end up being big parts of the other Kingsman films. I like how the whole knife hidden in the shoes is hinted at because it’s not an aside, it’s crucial in a set piece in this film and there isn’t that cheeky musical cue to hint at its future importance later on either. It’s a rare subtlety from this movie.
If you are wondering where the silliness comes from in this film, it ends up being from its alternate history plot. While there are things that line up with real history, such as how the Archeduke Franz Ferdinand was taken out, there are things that definitely don’t and this may make the average historian crawl up into a ball, cry and make small murmuring sounds about how Lenin should have been on a train in St Petersburg instead of having meetings with a shadowy cabal. But I think you have to get on board with the stupidity and just enjoy it because otherwise you are going to have a really bad time. Your time will get far worse when you see the post-credits scene which is one of the most ridiculous pieces of cinema you’ll see to come from 2021. But I enjoy this sort of silliness and it is in keeping with Kingsman.
The biggest problem with the movie is how it loses complete focus in the middle of the movie. The plot is focused on trying to stop Rasputin and a shadowy cabal from winning World War I for the Germans and making sure that King George gets killed. But because this is a film set in World War I, we need to go to the trenches for around half an hour. This is film law and you cannot change it. What this means is that instead of our fun WWI spy caper, we have to do the usual thing of going to the trenches, realising that it truly is horrible and show a load of scenes we’ve seen in other films. I’m starting to come to a view that WWI films should avoid the front unless they can be better than 1917 as otherwise what’s the point. What this part does is send the film off its rails, lose its focus and it takes a long time for the film to get back on track. This is a long film, longer than you’d expect, and this part unfortunately drags the rest down.
I don’t think The King’s Man will be divisive like The Golden Circle was. That film went to some extremes that will always find lovers and haters, while this film plays it far more safe. It is definitely not as crass which makes it very different from the rest of the Kingsman films, but that also takes away some of the unique identity that these films had. When the film knuckles down, it does have a lot of fun action scenes and the characters are enjoyable to be around. Polly in particular is very funny and just plain likable despite an underdeveloped romance subplot. But it does lose focus and so it is definitely one you can wait for it to be released on Blu-Ray.