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The King’s Man Review

After viewing the trailer for ‘The King’s Man,’ formerly known as ‘Kingsman: The Great Game,’ over and over again each time I went to a Disney/Fox showing, it feels like an eternity before it hits theaters. But it has arrived, and it is not what I expected.

Sure, the irreverent action-comedy to which fans and audiences alike have grown used in the ‘Kingsman’ franchise is still present. But it’s secondary this time around because co-writer and director Matthew Vaughn, who worked on the first two films, is more interested in going in an altogether different route, choosing for a somber and darker tone in the pattern of a World War I historical epic.

This ‘Kingsman’ prequel is set in the early twentieth century. We first see Orlando, the Duke of Oxford (Ralph Fiennes), witness the tragic murder of his loving wife Emily (Alexandra Maria Lara) during the Boer War. He has subsequently become a devout pacifist and vowed to shield his only son, Conrad (Alexander Shaw), at all costs from the horrors of war.

However, when the film jumps ahead a few years, his now-teenage son (Harris Dickinson) is excited to join the army and fight for his nation in World War I. But Orlando constantly prevents him from doing so, despite his son’s persistence as the war approaches. Orlando believes he can end a conflict without using violence by working as a top-secret spy network with his faithful right-hand man Shola (Djimon Hounsou) and housekeeper Polly (Gemma Arterton). The spies in question would engage domestic and international servants from all over the world to assist them in gathering important information about the conflict.

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Despite the fact that ‘The King’s Man’ is primarily based on a historical war epic,’ Vaughn tells us that we are still watching a ‘Kingsman’ film. This is especially apparent with the introduction of Bond-like villains commanded by a mysterious mastermind dubbed The Shepherd, who controls a small gang of evil historical characters including Grigori Rasputin (Rhys Ifans), Mata Hari (Valerie Pachner), and Erik Jan Hanussen (Daniel Brühl).

Of all the colorful villains in this prequel, Ifans’ over-the-top antagonist performance as Grigori Rasputin wowed me the most. There’s a lengthy sequence that ranges from bizarre (you’ll have to see it for yourself) to wild, with the latter containing one of the best action set pieces ever created in the ‘Kingsman’ franchise. Rasputin engages in a balletic sword duel against Orlando and Shola, with the help of Vaughn’s normally dynamic and stylised camerawork. The scene itself contains all of the loud joy and energy that made the ‘Kingsman’ franchise famous in the first place.

Vaughn’s idea to mix multiple tones in his prequel is daring, but it takes some getting accustomed to. At least, not for me, because the first half of the film is primarily dedicated to setting up the plot while interweaving real-life historical events (e.g., the Boer War, the World War I). The latter plays it straight, but Vaughn manages to throw in some revisionist what-if touches that, at times, remind me of Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Inglourious Basterds.’ ‘The King’s Man’ is also slow-moving, which contributes to the film’s 131-minute duration, when it might benefit more from some tighter trims.

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‘The King’s Man’ is far from a total catastrophe, despite the jarring tone shifts that alternate between the serious/revisionist historical war epic and the tongue-in-cheek action-comedy atmosphere. Other than the aforementioned Rasputin segment, Vaughn creates the father-son dynamic between Fiennes’ Orlando and Dickinson’s Conrad in the film. The World Battle I scene, particularly the one set in the trenches and no man’s land, demonstrates the director’s skill in presenting the terrible reality and visceral impact of the war. Then there’s the action-packed closing third act, which includes some of the film’s surprises, such as the destiny of one of the protagonists and the reveal of the enigmatic mastermind.

In terms of the cast, Ralph Fiennes is credible as an unusual action hero in this prequel while also excelling in dramatic moments. Harris Dickinson, Djimon Hounsou, and Gemma Arterton all have good supporting performances as Conrad, Shola, and Polly, respectively, while Tom Hollander has a ball playing not one but three parts as King George, Tsar Nicholas, and Kaiser Wilhelm.

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The King’s Man Review
The King’s Man Review
The King’s Man Review
The King’s Man Review
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The King’s Man Review
The King’s Man Review
The King’s Man Review
The King’s Man Review
The King’s Man Review
The King’s Man Review
The King’s Man Review

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