The King’s Man (2021)
The King’s Man (2021)

Genre: Action and Spy Running Time: 2 hrs. 11 min.

Release Date: December 22nd, 2021 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Matthew Vaughn Actors: Ralph Fiennes, Harris Dickinson, Djimon Hounsou, Gemma Arterton, Charles Dance, Matthew Goode, Rhys Ifans, Daniel Bruhl, Tom Hollander, Valerie Pachner

 


 

T

oward the end of the Second Boer War in 1902 in South Africa, Orlando Oxford (Ralph Fiennes) arrives with his wife Emily (Alexandra Maria Lara) and their young son Conrad on a Red Cross mission to a concentration camp. But when a sniper ambush attempts to wipe out British commander Kitchener (Charles Dance), Emily is mortally wounded in the crossfire. “Protect him from this world,” she whispers as she dies in Orlando’s arms.

Twelve years later, Conrad (Harris Dickinson) is anxious to engage in his own heroic endeavors, receiving plenty of martial arts training from longtime family friend and chauffeur Shola (Djimon Hounsou). And as a rite of passage, Orlando takes Conrad to the world’s finest tailor, Kingsman, for a sharp new suit. But elsewhere, on the world stage, trouble is brewing; an evil Scottish mastermind, dubbed the Shepherd, has assembled the notorious likes of Rasputin (Rhys Ifans) and Lenin (August Diehl) and a roundtable of other devious minions (like the villain version of “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen”) to plot assassinations and chaos and ruination, aiming to orchestrate specific outcomes in the escalating feud between the leaders of England, Germany, and Russia (King George, Kaiser Wilhelm, and Tsar Nicholas, respectively, all played by Tom Hollander). World War I is looming.

So it’s a good thing that Orlando, though a self-proclaimed pacifist, is something of a super-spy, using his considerable resources and connections to come to the aid of his country. But he remains overprotective of his son, hoping to prevent the boy from setting off to undertake his own brand of reckless daredevilry. Curiously, this is where the film separates itself into two different paths and two very different tones. With trench warfare and bayonet combat reenactments, there’s a hint of “1917” here, demonstrating an attention to detail (in uniforms and sets and props), graphic bloodshed, and bleak hellishness (such as primitive weapons used against youthful strangers), as if an earnest war picture. Some stylization crops up, such as unusually intimidating gas-mask-wearing enemy soldiers (like something out of “Mandy” or “Overlord”) and overstated explosions, but the frantic treks across gore-soaked terrain serve to highlight the horrors of war over any misguided sense of adventure and honor. Yet once these sequences pass, Orlando’s efforts to thwart the Shepherd return to something entirely absurd, slapstick-like, and laughable.

At times, it’s difficult to determine if “The King’s Man” is trying to copy James Bond or Austin Powers; is this a sincere action film or a total spoof? Various editing techniques and camera angles replicate a video game (there’s even a saber’s blade cam), while crude sexual humor augments the potential suspense of a high-stakes infiltration – crumbling into a cake-gorging, hypnosis-interrogation, wound-licking, dance-fighting sequence (not capoeira, but a ludicrous blend of Russian squat work and kung fu). And the finale is a nonsensical mess of CG-stuffed stunts that would seem fit for “Mission: Impossible” were they not so utterly unbelievable.

Also problematically, the characters are so exhaustingly generic that it’s an uphill battle to care about their successes or failures. New antagonists are devised at random to give the stars further opportunities to heroically meddle with historical events (which, interestingly, still unfold as expected, even in the midst of so many extra schemes and players and monkey wrenches), and the various protagonists effortlessly foil intricate treasons thanks to a network of spies who operate as if they had access to smartphones. Plus, with a story design that feels haphazard, the pacing is off, lending to drawn-out moments that serve as Tarantino-esque history lessons as the mood shifts from goofy to somber to whimsical. Ultimately, the plot progression and personas are so formulaic that it’s all merely a collection of obvious good guys and bad guys, futilely pit against one another without much of a goal other than to stir up trouble and then to quell it.

– Mike Massie

  • 3/10