Matthew Vaughn’s The King’s Man, delivers a prequel to The Kingsman franchise that is enjoyable to the extent it can be enjoyed autonomously. This third instalment — which is based on the comic book The Secret Service by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons, and chronicles the premises to 2014’s Kingsman: The Secret Service and 2017’s Kingsman: The Golden Circle — welds the comedy spy genre with a period drama.
The film reveals the origins of the first independent intelligence agency. The story is set in the early years of the previous century, when the agency does not yet exist and we are introduced to Orlando Oxford (Ralph Fiennes), an aristocrat who tries to help the less fortunate. Once he is affected by a devastating loss, he devotes his life to fighting for peace, championing the values of justice and loyalty. His greatest challenge is having to deal with the Europe of his times, seething hatred and separatism, as the worst tyrants and criminal minds in history come together to organise a war to wipe out millions of lives.
The King’s Man blends real-life history with the heightened world of the series, in a very effective way. We observe iconic characters from the First World War, such as King George, the Kaiser, Tsar Nicholas, Rasputin, Lenin, Mata Hari, (and wait until the very end of the credits to discover more!) intertwining with the phantasmagorical adventures of the Duke of Oxford.
The talented cast — that includes Ralph Fiennes (who also serves as one of the film’s executive producers), Gemma Arterton, Rhys Ifans, Matthew Goode, Tom Hollander, Harris Dickinson, Daniel Brühl, Djimon Hounsou, Charles Dance, Stanley Tucci and Aaron Taylor-Johnson — populates battlefields, historical mansions and the exclusive tailor’s shop on Savile Road, that is the hallmark of the film series. Their performances are worthy of a Shakespearean representation. Ralph Fiennes is impeccable; Harris Dickinson plays his son with equal valiant allure; Djimon Hounsou is balanced in his role as helper willing to give his life for the cause; Gemma Arterton conveys the flair of the gentle warrior as the governess, who is in fact the ruler of the house. Rhys Ifans entertains with his over-the-top version of Rasputin; whereas the chameleonic Tom Hollander thanks to wigs and moustaches, triples his performances wearing the hats of King George of England, Tsar Nicholas and Kaiser Wilhelm — who were actually cousins.
The film directed and co-written by Matthew Vaughn, possesses some elements of pulp. But it surpasses its two predecessors by creating a potpourri of genres, with fight sequences, rollicking jokes, hyperbolic situations, and ultimately giving more space to moral discourse. Whilst maintaining the frenetic pace and amusing gimmicks of the 2014 and 2017 movies, this 2021 film is more steady in its tone, portraying how an idealist has to abdicate his pacifist principles, because of the circumstances he is confronted with.
Final Grade: B+