The King’s Man review: A big, crazy action spy movie … for adults

Many directors appear either caught in the comics-to-movies pipeline or stressed out by it. Lots of filmmakers have actually directed game-changing, career-making superhero images (Tim Burton, Jon Favreau, Joss Whedon), just to go back after a less popular follow up, while others who began little (Jon Watts, James Gunn) don’t appear able or interested adequate to discover their method back to more intimate tasks. Something about The King’s Male director Matthew Vaughn, however, produces the impression that he really enjoys making comics movies, like a Zack Snyder unburdened by a heavy quasi-mythological vision.

The King’s Male marks Vaughn’s 3rd venture into a comics world (following Kick-Ass and X-Men: First Class), however in specific, he appears to like his James Bond-ish half-spoofs based upon the comics by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons. How else to describe Vaugn directing a prequel to the very first 2 Kingsman experiences, both of which he likewise directed? This is the kind of job typically fobbed off to an editor or visual impacts manager, somebody trying to find a big-budget break in their blossoming directorial profession. Rather, Vaughn clocks in gladly. If anybody is going to monitor the series’ shift into a remarkably serious-minded Papa Film, it’s going to be Vaughn himself.

That is, remarkably, what The King’s Male is opting for: a classier and more Dad-friendly World War I action film, with regular however not continuous tastes of the old Kingsman ultraviolence. The brash-young-man-and-proper-older-badass dynamic that existed in between Taron Egerton and Colin Firth in the earlier movies has actually been turned into a father-son story about Orlando Oxford (Ralph Fiennes), still reeling from the death of his better half, frantically hoping that his kid Conrad (Harris Dickinson) will prevent delving into the action as geopolitical stress intensify and Britain’s entry into World War I looms. The story is never ever completely passed along to the more youthful character; this truly is Fiennes’ film all the method, and most likely more fascinating for it.

Orlando Oxford (Ralph Fiennes) sits as Conrad (Harris Dickinson) tries on his Kingsman suit

Ralph Fiennes, Djimon Hounsou in adventure gear prepare for a fight in The King’s Man

Photos: Peter Mountain/20th Century Studios

Orlando is generally a proto-Kingsman, to the point where the ultimate and prequel-required solution of this independent “secret service” doesn’t have much effect. After all, Orlando is currently consorting with Shola (Djimon Hounsou, pillar of almost all existing movie franchises) and Polly (Gemma Arterton), who moonlight as members of his big estate’s personnel while working as industrious spies with Objective: Difficult-design specialities and weak points. In other words, they’re domestic workers in more ways than one.

That’s a cute idea that also speaks to the way The King’s Man desperately wants to mitigate its aristocratic tendencies while also indulging them. Conrad is told from a young age that “it’s important that people of privilege lead by example, and Orlando’s staff are super-capable heroes. But the movie still revels in his supposed equals happily calling him “your grace.” It’s an apologetically attractive look at colonialism that oddly has Fiennes recalling his character from 1998’s TV adaptation The Avengers (and agreeably weird curiosity, for what it’s worth). In the years since then, Fiennes has become an actor who seems incapable of delivering anything short of full commitment to his performances, a quality put to the test by this movie demanding he work with a straight face throughout.

This more serious business does offer a respite from the gleeful did-I-offend-you-bruv tone of the earlier movies; The King’s Man is Vaughn’s least smirky movie since X-Men: First Class, and barely recognizable as part of the Mark Millar Extended Universe. The remnants of the older movies are mostly the handful of elaborate and still extremely violent action sequences, and the movie’s cartoon version of real history, which involves Tom Hollander triple-cast as King George, Kaiser Wilhelm, and Tsar Nicholas; the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand; and Rasputin (Rhs Ifans), one of the bad guy’s co-conspirators and subject of a setpiece that involves attempting to feed him a poisoned cake. Naturally, things get a bit more physical.

Gemma Arterton aims a sniper rifle in The King’s Man

Photo: Peter Mountain/20th Century Studios

The action sequences, including the skirmish with Rasputin, are still done up in classic Kingsman design: a springy virtual-looking camera zipping around the amped-up fights, making sure to take notice of any and all excessive gore. The big climax feels a bit less sensationalized and more mission-driven than Vaughn’s previous entries — again recalling his X-Men installment, however slightly — with fewer (though not zero) outlandish gadgets. Considering the first Kingsman had Sofia Boutella with knife-legs, Gemma Arterton’s sharpshooting feels almost restrained.

The film’s cartoony bits still stick out, because the journey to the line “time to kill Rasputin” (and the detour away from it; Rasputin ultimately isn’t the movie’s main event) is surprisingly lengthy, as Orlando and Conrad clash over what kind of sacrifices should be expected or volunteered by young men for their country. (This was hinted at in the earlier movies when the origin of the Kingsman organization is explained.) Is this the film series equipped to answer or even ask these questions? Is it worth all of the shifts and accommodations just to make a Kingsman prequel in a slightly different register? This is still a movie about a madman manipulating world events to vengefully pit Germany against England, where the bad guy’s face is concealed to lead up to a big reveal, despite having characterization that’s pretty much limited to “Scottish.”

Still, the tension between Vaughn’s designs on making a more old-fashioned, serious-minded war/spy picture and the usual cheeky battle royale makes The King’s Male more memorable than its predecessor Kingsman: The Golden Circle, a middling retread. Maybe Vaughn really does want to make a whole universe of films out of an idea that formerly appeared one-note. It’s not a specifically honorable or creatively effective pursuit, however if it keeps him out of difficulty and lets the constantly underserved Gemma Arterton fire off a couple of rounds, who are we to stop him?

Jobber Wiki author Frank Long contributed to this report.