The Reel Review
This latest installment in the Kingsman spy action franchise, starring Ralph Fiennes, is the backstory prequel of how the fictional, secret spy organization began, starting with key moments leading up through World War I.
After 2015’s really fun Colin Firth/Taron Egerton original, Kingsman: The Secret Service, followed two years later by an absolutely dreadful follow up, Kingsman: The Golden Circle, writer/director Matthew Vaughn is back. But his prequel has an identify crisis. It feels like three movies: one, a serious, old school war drama in the vein of 1917 and Dunkirk; another, an audition tape for a future James Bond film with a cartoonish Blofeld-type villain; and the other, the more familiar, goofy action/comedy with ridiculous but raucously entertaining scenarios. Sound confusing? It really is.
The film inserts its fictional characters into key moments of WWI history – among them: the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo, the assassination of influential Russian mystic Grigori Rasputin, and an attempt by villains to use Mata Hari to blackmail U.S. President Woodrow Wilson into keeping the United States out of WWI. The clever manipulation of actual events is fun, but despite some well-done moments, the constant, jarring tonal shifts prevent the muddled, violent film as a whole from ever quite gelling.
Fiennes leads the strong cast as the emotionally torn, pacifist-minded spymaster, with an also excellent Harris Dickinson (Maleficient: Mistress of Evil, Beach Rats) as his idealistic, patriotic son. The highly choreographed fight scenes are entertaining with a really fun to watch Gemma Arterton and Djimon Hounsou. It is in those moments that The King’s Man really shines and is very entertaining. Sadly, those moments are clouded by a writer/director who just couldn’t decide what type of film he wanted to make.
• Ralph Fiennes, Gemma Arterton and Neil Jackson have all appeared in James Bond films – Arterton and Jackson in 2008’s Quantum of Solace, and Fiennes as M in the last three Bond films – 2012’s Skyfall, 2015’s Spectre and 2021’s No Time to Die.
• The King’s Man was initially scheduled to hit theaters more than two years ago, on November 15, 2019 but was repeatedly delayed, much of those due to the COVID pandemic.
• So which of the historical claims in The King’s Man are accurate? Austro-Hungarian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie WERE assassinated near Latin Bridge in Sarajevo in 1914 following a failed car bomb attack earlier in the day, sparking the start of WWI. Rasputin was not bisexual (he was actually a homophobe) but did have influence over the Russian Tzar until his own assassination in 1916. Mata Hari never met U.S. President Woodrow Wilson but was executed by a French firing squad in 1917, convicted of spying for Germany during WWI.