The King’s Man Review: A messy prequel that misses massive potential
Matthew Vaughn has really done an excellent job making the release of his adaptations of the Kingsman comics be nearly as notable as a new Marvel or DC movie coming out, but his latest, an original prequel delving into the bloody origins of the Kingsman, isn’t as strong as his past efforts.
The King’s Man brings fans all the way back to World War I as the secret intelligence group comes to fruition as a mysterious group plan to throw the entire world into chaos. World War I is actually a setting full of potential for a unique Kingsman story and at times, The King’s Man lives up to some of that potential. Often, the Kingsman are button-upped secret agents who generally keep their hands pretty clean after all the fighting is done and are regarded as high-class heroes. With them being dropped into the middle of an all-out war though, there’s a grittier and more daring side shown that sees them get their hands a little dirty and establish some of their beliefs in chaotic times. There are moments right on the frontlines that are dirtier and more gruesome, including a suspenseful knife fight in the middle of no man’s land, and the overall themes of The King’s Man are much dourer than usual for Kingsman.
The Golden Circle definitely offered some sad moments with Merlin’s sacrifice and the organization being nearly wiped out, but The King’s Man really delves into the horrors and mental scars of war with its main father/son duo. As World War I begins to break out, Orlando Oxford (Ralph Fiennes) is still haunted by the death of his wife that’s made him take a vow of pacifism and this has made his relationship with his son Conrad (Harris Dickinson) complicated as he wants to fight for his country. This debate and exploration of how damaging war can be on those both on and off the battlefield can have moments that really tug at your heart. There’s a big, unexpected turn in the second act with Conrad that legitimately rips your heart out because of how suddenly devastating it is and Orlando wrestling with his grief and inner turmoil creates a solid arc for him to finally act.
Unfortunately, The King’s Man is World War I movie first and only Kingsman movie on occasion making its dourness and lack of wildly creative action a real drag. The King’s Man is definitely not a fun, action-packed jaunt like the previous two films and while that might work for some character moments with Conrad and Orlando, it doesn’t really have the depth to make it feel supplemental for what’s lost. With there not really being much creative action, The King’s Man can definitely get boring, and it doesn’t exactly execute its characters or themes well. Outside of Conrad and Orlando, none of the other characters, both good and bad, have any depth to them or play up the themes well. The plot is also a total mess with characters being thrown in when needed, especially the cronies of the film’s antagonist The Shepherd, and there’s no real direction for the narrative. The film just jumps from place to place to try to string viewers along, but it’s a lackluster path that leads to an even blander conclusion.
The Shepherd is completely wasted as an antagonist as the purpose of his plans are never really unveiled and the reveal of who he is a totally unnecessary plot twist. He has all the great shadowy mystery and build-up you could want for a criminal mastermind, but none of the satisfying conclusions. Honestly, Rhys Ifans’ Rasputin is a much more intriguing villain that’s totally wasted in the first act and none of the cronies manage to make their mark.
The worst part of The King’s Man is how it tries to identify itself as a prequel as it just shoves in references and nods to what viewers know about Kingsman. References are just blatant reminders that this is indeed a Kingsman movie and what it does try to build-up is so on the nose that it’s almost annoying. The ending meant to feel like the true moment of the Kingsman forming is the most ham-fisted origins moment as it just cements expected tie-ins to create an ending that embodies a “well, I guess they did it” attitude.
Although The King’s Man can occasionally make good use of its setting and thematic elements with its main characters, it’s an otherwise utter mess that makes for an unsatisfying origin story that’s better left unseen.