Somewhere along the line, the "Kingsman" films stopped being fun.
When "Kingsman: The Secret Service" debuted in 2015, it was one of my favorite films of that year. It was a vibrant comic-book movie (of which it is based), but one meant for adults. It was surprising, violent, funny and cool...a spy-action-thriller that wandered close to satire, walking a line between James Bond danger and Austin Powers buffoonery. It kicked-ass. And its director, Matthew Vaughn (who ironically directed "Kick-Ass") was on a roll, having also hit a home run with "X-Men: First Class."
The sequel was inevitable, and when "Kingsman: The Golden Circle" came in 2017, I called it a "soul-crushingly disappointing sequel." It was not good...not good at all. It starred Elton John , which should pretty much cue you in.
Even still, I was cautiously optimistic for "The King's Man," a film promised as a prequel to the original movie. It was long-delayed, first scheduled to hit theaters in November of 2019 before being pushed back due to the pandemic and a bevy of other reasons. Over two years later, it's finally here, but this is one that should have been kept permanently on the shelf.
Taking place during and around the events of WWI, the British secret service agents known as "The Kingsman" have not yet been formed, even though the tailor shop bearing the name has. Orlando Oxford (Ralph Fiennes), a former military guy who has vowed off violence, is trying to do right by his son, army-aged Conrad (Harris Dickinson). But Orlando gets involved in trying to thwart an assembly of villains who gather together as if they were appearing on an episode of "Super Friends." We never see the face of their Scottish-voiced leader - who sits at the head of a table with real-life villains such as Rasputin (Rhys Ifans) - who plots to orchestrate the events of the war for his own ends.
Miraculously, the two components that made the first "Kingsman" movie such a refreshing success are ENTIRELY missing from the film's first one hour: Comedy and Action. Instead we're served up epic amounts of plot, none of which matters in the least despite taking up an awful lot of time. At that hour-mark, there is a sword-fight between Rasputin, Orlando and his son, and it's a flash-reminder of a franchise that once was, and what could have been. A late parachuting rescue mission is the film's only other sequence that even holds a candle to the events of the first film.
Tonally, "The King's Man" does not know what it wants to be. It definitely wanted to strike a different, more serious or important tone than its predecessors, but why? There is no gravity to this prequel story, and no real reason to ground it in such realism. From that cool Rasputin sword-fight, you'll swear you're watching a completely different movie by the time we land on a WWI battlefield...even the tone of the action doesn't seem to sync up throughout.
Other choices fall flat, like the inspired casting of the same actor, Tom Hollander, playing George V as well as his French and Russian cousins. This could have been mined for comedy, but instead it goes nowhere.
The idea that this is even considered a "prequel" is a bit of a stretch. There are a few formalities that lead this film in a "Kingsman" direction, but they don't quite have anything to do with the movie we just witnessed. Declare yourself "Arthur" before the titles roll, and this apparently ties you in with the franchise.
This is a dry, miscalculation of epic proportions and another terribly disappointing movie-going experience. Consider this franchise dead. All the king's horses and all the king's men couldn't put "The King's Man" back together again...and to continue with this analogy, perhaps if he saw "The King's Man" coming, we now know why Humpty Dumpty took the leap.
RELATED: Kingsman: The Secret Service Review
RELATED: Kingsman: The Golden Circle Review
Genre: Action, Adventure.
Run Time: 2 hours 11 minutes.
Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Gemma Arterton, Rhys Ifans, Harris Dickinson, Djimon Hounsou, Charles Dance, Matthew Goode.
Co-Written and Directed by Matthew Vaughn ("Kingsman: The Secret Service," "Kingsman: The Golden Circle," "X-Men: First Class," "Kick-Ass," "Layer Cake").
"The King's Man" is in theaters on Wednesday, December 22nd, 2021.
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