Movie Review: The King’s Man

It’s taken two years to arrive, but THE KING’S MAN is finally hitting our screens.  The reason for the delay isn’t the pandemic though… well, not completely.  The film was supposed to be released in November 2019, but it got pushed it back – and forward – eight times.  If that doesn’t scream that the studio has no confidence in the film’s box office success, I don’t know what does.

Based on the comic book “The Secret Service” by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons, THE KING’S MAN is the prequel to 2014’s KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE and 2017’s KINGSMAN: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE.  In this iteration, which is set prior to and during WWI, Orlando, the Duke of Oxford (Ralph Fiennes, NO TIME TO DIE; THE DIG; OFFICIAL SECRETS) is a widowed father to teenaged son Conrad (Harris Dickinson, MALEFICENT: MISTRESS OF EVIL; THE DARKEST MINDS).  Conrad is raised by his nanny, Polly Wilkins (Gemma Arterton, THEIR FINEST) and receives hand-to-hand combat instruction from the Orlando’s faithful butler, Shola (Djimon Hounsou (A QUIET PLACE PART II; SHAZAM!; CAPTAIN MARVEL; AQUAMAN; KING ARTHUR: LEGEND OF THE SWORD; THE LEGEND OF TARZAN).  With the winds of war starting to blow in Europe, Conrad wants to enlist in the army, but Orlando won’t hear of it.  The boy is too young and Orlando has made a commitment to pacifism.  Meanwhile, somewhere on a remote cliff top, a cabal of evildoers is meeting.  Led by a mysterious bald-headed Scotsman, they plot to create chaos in the world.  When Archduke Franz Ferdinand is assassinated, which prompts first cousins King George V of the UK, Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm II and Russia’s Tsar Nicholas II (all played by Tom Hollander, BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY; BREATHE) to declare war, Orlando decides that he can no longer stand on the sidelines and watch.

Is THE KING’S MAN an historical thriller, a comedy, a spy spoof or a war film?  Audiences might easily think they walked into a screening of the film 1917 when Conrad finally does go off to Europe to fight the Germans.  One scene in particular appears to be lifted from Sam Mendes’ war epic.  Though THE KING’S MAN has a good premise, it seems that once the cameras started rolling, series director and co-writer Matthew Vaughn couldn’t work out what kind of story he wanted to tell.  While there are some spectacular set pieces – particularly a highly choreographed fight scene that follows a sexually charged encounter between Orlando and Russian Grigori Rasputin (Rhys Ifans, OFFICIAL SECRETS; THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN) – and Ifans’ performance as the mad monk is deliciously fabulous, the rest of the film is a tonal bean salad.

Of course, like every Hollywood film these days, THE KING’S MAN ends with a sequel clearly in its sights.  After this misfire, I’m not sure either audiences or Disney-owned 20th Century Studios would be up for it though.

THE KING’S MAN begins its worldwide release tomorrow (December 22nd).  We’re getting it in Hong Kong on the 30th. Wait for this one to come to a streaming service, which should be in early February.

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