Much like Black Widow and No Time to Die, The King’s Man is yet another film that was originally supposed to be released in 2020, but thanks to the pandemic it got delayed again, again, and again. To be honest, I would have forgotten all about it, but almost every time I went to see a movie in a theater a trailer for The King’s Man reminded me that it still existed and was going to be released.
For those of unaware of this film, The King’s Man is a prequel to Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014) and the sequel Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017), which are spy comedies about a secret British organization set in modern times. When I first saw the first film Kingsman: The Secret Service, I fell in love with it. It was action packed and filled with self-aware humor that felt like a refreshing contrast to the Daniel Craig’s James Bond films. I just wish the sequel, Kingsman: The Golden Circle, lived up to the same standard, but like most sequels these days (specifically comedy sequels) it didn’t reach its potential. Would this prequel be just as great the first Kingsman film? Let’s find out. Also, there will be spoilers in this review, which I normally try to avoid in my reviews, but it feels needed in this one.
In this prequel, The King’s Man starts in 1902 following Orlando Oxford (Ralph Fiennes), a British aristocrat and duke who at the time was working for the Red Cross, and visits a prisoner of war camp in South Africa during the Boer War. Accompanying him are his servant Shola (Djimon Hounsou), his wife Emily (Alexandra Maria Lara), and his young son Conrad (Alexander Shaw). While at the camp, the family is ambushed and Emily is killed by a sniper, which leaves Orlando devastated. Twelve years has pass and Orlando has recruited Shola and another servant Polly (Gemma Arterton) into his spy network, with which he intends to protect the United Kingdom and the British Empire from the Great War that is approaching. Throughout the film, Orlando recruits his now older son Conrad (Harris Dickinson) into his spy organization, though the younger man intends to join the British army. Orlando forbids him mainly because he doesn’t want to lose him like he did his wife. Meanwhile, another network led by a mysterious leader known as the Shepard wants to pit the German, Russian, and British empires against each other. Some of these members include Gavirilo Princip (Joel Basman), who successfully kills Archduke Franz Ferdinand (Ron Cook) and his wife, and Grigori Rasputin (Rhys Ifans), who is a trusted advisor to Tsar Nicholas of Russia. After finding out that the Russians were responsible for the death of War Secretary Herbert Kitchener, who was also the leader of Britain’s military effort, Orlando, Conrad, Shola, and Polly head to Russia to confront Rasputin in their mission ever to stop the Great War from expanding.
Now that I have seen The King’s Man, I can confidently say that it is much better film than Kingsman: The Golden Circle. This newest iteration in the franchise feels more grounded and sophisticated, which is something I wanted. Despite that, however, when it comes to pacing and tone, it misses its mark by a lot. These problems did not make it so that it lacked enjoyment, but its major issues were something that didn’t gel with me when I left the theater.
In my last review, which was House of Gucci, I mentioned how it could’ve worked better as a miniseries given the breadth of content. I feel like The King’s Man would’ve worked better as a miniseries as well, but for different reasons. The story here feels like it is all over the place, with characters that will inexplicably disappear for a long period of time or entirely when their impact is made on the overall film. One example would be Rasputin himself. If you happen to watch the trailers and advertisements for the film, then you probably noticed how much they advertised Rasputin. In fact, there’s even a music video trailer that I saw on YouTube that featured him heavily, with the song “Rasputin” by Boney M. Well. If you were expecting him to be featured a lot in this film, then don’t get your hopes up. He’s only in it for only a third of the movie. Orlando and his crew kill him off when they visit him in Russia, and at first I thought it was a fake out, but as the film progressed I realized that he wasn’t coming back. This is a tone issue as his character was so over the top and cartoony that when he gets killed off the rest of the film feels uneven. It becomes a more dramatic piece given the events that follow.
There are also scenes in The King’s Man where certain characters would disappear for a long period of time, to the point where it felt like there were different movies being shown. The specific character that comes to mind is Conrad Oxford. While his father doesn’t give his blessing to join the army, he does so anyway. Though Orlando does everything in his power to make sure Conrad’s life in the army is boring as possible (i.e. not getting involved in combat) he eventually gets in the trenches. It’s actually a pretty cool scene that reminded me of the beginning of 1917, and it does portray Conrad in a heroic manner, even though he does perish in an act of miscommunication, grieving Orlando once more. While I did enjoy that scene a lot, it felt too long for the film that it is. I believe it would’ve worked better if it was part of a miniseries, with Conrad’s death being the ending of an episode.
That said, despite the problems I had with the pacing and tone of the film, one thing that enjoyed here in The King’s Man a lot that I did with the other installments were the characters. Orlando Oxford was already a likable person from the start with a few minor flaws, one of them being not fulfilling his son’s wish of serving his country. One of Orlando’s admirable traits is how committed he is to pacifism after reflecting on his violent past. Though he does some violent acts throughout the film (mostly in the third act) it’s not done in vain and is performed to help stop a devastating war. Another character I want to add, though I had already mentioned him, is Conrad Oxford. God put us on this Earth for a specific calling and Conrad’s calling is to serve his country despite his father’s wishes not to enlist. Even though his service in the British Army ends quickly due to getting killed in battle, his death was a honorable sacrifice that helped his father and his crew stop the war from getting bigger.
Though it may not be perfect and it doesn’t have the excitement and comedic charm compared to Kingsman: The Secret Service, The King’s Man is still a solid action flick that I enjoyed watching. It may not be my new favorite blockbuster in theaters right now, nor one that I would see again, but it is something I would recommend to folks who don’t want to step back into the Matrix or be confused on what’s going on in Spider-Man: No Way Home, for those who haven’t kept up with the Marvel films. One positive retrospect that impacted me after I watched The King’s Man is that I wanted to learn more about the real-life historical figures featured in it, such as Rasputin and Archduke Franz Ferdinand. While the real-life events aren’t as exiting as the ones featured in this film, I’m glad films like this one refence them as a way to get people to learn more about history. Hopefully people won’t take these events depicted in the film literally, otherwise I weep for the future.