Director Matthew Vaughn returns with his Kingsman franchise, this time with a prequel simply called The King’s Man (2021). This film, like many, was delayed numerous times due to the pandemic, and it’s possible that the audience for it has long since forgotten its existence. However, if you were a fan and need reminding, this review will hopefully accomplish that. The King’s Man is not quite as much fun as the prior two, as there are elements that require a more serious tone. Still, the movie manages to insert some of the wild action and zany comic book vibes of its predecessors for the fans of the franchise to embrace.
Set at the start of World War I, The King’s Man focuses on Orlando Oxford (Ralph Fiennes) and his son, Conrad (Harris Dickinson), who find themselves needing to intervene with Rasputin’s (Rhys Ifans) influence over the Russian Czar (Tom Hollander). However, they find that there is more going on than one man’s influence, and the origins of the Kingsmen are slowly revealed.
Fiennes never disappoints when he is given the reigns of a film. While he is more than capable of blending into the background if the role requires it, he is such a dynamic lead performer that he brings almost too much gravitas to this movie. There are moments where you forget that this is a spy movie franchise based on a comic book, largely in part to his performance. However, when it is time for him to have fun in the role, he isn’t shy about it at all. He quickly tears all of the prestige and embraces the camp in some incredible action sequences.
Djimon Hounsou needs more acclaim at this point. Every time he steps on screen in any movie, it is instantly elevated. You can’t help but root for his characters if that is what he is going for. The charm and joy he brings to roles like this enhance the cinematic experience, and he fits in so well as Shola – the trusty sidekick to Orlando – who manages to be more than just that. There is a true friendship between the two of them – as well as with Conrad. Of course, then one must think of Gemma Arterton as Polly, the nanny, who receives multiple opportunities to showcase her own talents. The relationships between these four are the emotional crux of the film, which Vaughn uses expertly to make this movie feel grounded despite some of the absurdity in it.
In fact, there are many great performances in this film, but Ifans is so wild as Rasputin that he can’t be forgotten. There is an epic sword fight with him, Shola, Orlando, and Conrad that is definitely the most “Kingsman” style action scene in the film. I won’t go into specifics so that your experience will have the same level of joy that mine had – but it is a pretty creative use of the character.
The King’s Man is a unique alternate history story that wraps its silliness with sincerity. With a lot of help from the performances, the shifting tones feel less jarring than they might have in another movie. There are moments where it feels like you are watching a serious WWI period piece, only to have it interrupted by an over-the-top comic villain. On paper, it doesn’t really sound like it’ll work – but it does. The King’s Man earns the Not Quite Golden, Ponyboy rating.