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the king's man

★★★★

director: matthew vaughn (kick-ass, kingsman: the secret service)
starring: ralph fiennes, harris dickinson, gemma arterton, and rhys ifans 

 

REVIEWER: lyall carter

In the early years of the 20th century, the Kingsman agency is formed to stand against a cabal plotting a war to wipe out millions.

In 1998 Ralph Fiennes starred as legendary spy John Steed in the now infamous reimagining of the 60’s British TV classic The Avengers (not to be confused with the Marvel superheroes - very different). Fiennes has gone on to star in all manner of films from Oscar-winning dramas to blockbuster franchises. In The King’s Man Fiennes has come full circle, back to starring not just as M, the master of spies in the Bond franchise, but as a spy himself. The King’s Man is brutally action-packed with envelope-pushing humour, but it also explores themes that cut deep with some of the boldest narrative choices in recent memory. Blockbuster cinema at its finest. 

 

As a collection of history’s worst tyrants and criminal masterminds gather to plot a war to wipe out millions, one man must race against time to stop them. Discover the origins of the very first independent intelligence agency in The King's Man.

 

The King’s Man is its own cinematic man. While serving as a prequel to the franchise, you don’t have to have seen the previous films to be fully immersed into this world. It feels like, that in a lot of ways, The King’s Man is director Matthew Vaughn’s war film. 

 

While The King’s Man does have some pretty big changes narratively in the middle of the film, it never feels like it drastically changes tonally or narratively. Without giving much of the plot away, Vaughn demonstrates through this tale the utter unpredictable horrors of war. More so than most war films have done. And he does it in such a way that will utterly catch you by surprise and take your breath away. There were audible gasps and people looking gobsmacked in the screening I attended. Bold, brilliant original stuff. 

 

Granted, thematically and tonally one minute there’s envelope-pushing, toe-curling humour (in this instance by the deliciously devilish Rhys Ifans as Rasputin) followed by brutal violence (the most brutal WWI action I’ve seen on the big screen - think Saving Private Ryan) to exploring the horrors of war. But The King’s Man is just following in the footsteps of its predecessors which played pretty much the same game. 

 

And the themes that Vaughn explores from war to colonial empire feel gritty, real, and a bit grey. It’s a mature exploration and critique and he should be applauded for it. The action is just as brutal and inventive as the previous films with one timelapse sequence showing the brutal change that war inflicts on a landscape in one of the most narratively and technically spectacular shots I’ve seen in a long time. 

 

Fiennes is superb as Oxford, bringing a real beating heart into the film as well as dishing it out in the action sequences. Harris Dickinson more than holds his own with Fiennes and the other more experienced actors. While Arterton doesn’t get nearly as much screen time as she or her character should, she does wonders with the time she has. 

 

The King’s Man is brutally action-packed with envelope-pushing humour, but it also explores themes that cut deep with some of the boldest narrative choices in recent memory. Blockbuster cinema at its finest.

★★★★