Cert – 15, Run-time – 2 hours 11 minutes, Director – Matthew Vaughn
After having seen multiple deaths in previous wars and promising to never kill again, Orlando, Duke of Oxford (Ralph Fiennes) finds himself having to assemble a team to take down the head of an organisation which has planned and masterminded World War One.
Whatever you may think of Kingsman: The Secret Service and its sequel The Golden Circle there’s little denying that both are thoroughly modern spy ventures. Now, with largely World War One set prequel The King’s Man Matthew Vaughn takes something of a slightly more traditional route with the franchise. There are certainly some slight gadgets wound into certain scenes, but for the most part it’s back to traditional hand-to-hand combat, with the occasional gun, sword and knife. The film sees the birth of the Kingsman service as we know it, at this point before the breakout of the war Kingsman is still only known as a distinguished tailors in Savile Row. A place frequented by Ralph Fiennes’ Orlando, better known as the Duke of Oxford. It’s a shop which he hopes to see his son, Conrad (Harris Dickinson – who it’s somewhat difficult to believe is meant to be a teenager for much of this film) don the suits of in years to come.
However, Conrad has other hopes that go well against his father’s wishes; his father a man who has sworn never to take another life after witnessing mass bloodshed in previous wars. Hopes of joining the military and helping to fight in the rapidly growing First World War. It’s a war that Orlando, alongside skilled-with-a-knife servant Shola (Djimon Hounsou) and code-cracking nanny/maid Polly (Gemma Arterton), intends on stopping. However, things are much more complex than they seem. There’s a winding road of villains and figures to combat, all of whom have links to a hidden organisation run by a hidden figure intent on getting revenge on King George V (Tom Hollander – who also plays the leaders of Germany and Russia, Wilhelm II and Nicholas II) for centuries long mistreatment and ignorance of Scotland.
Starting an entire World War certainly seems like something excessively severe for the sake of Scottish nationalism, but it also manages to be one of the more amusing elements of the film when revealed (perhaps not intentionally though). It slightly suits a villain who resides in a shabbily built barn surrounded by CG goats on top of a hundreds-of-feet towering rock in the middle of nowhere – hollow it out and you’ve got a perfect Roger Moore Bond villain. A man who has a gang of villains which most prominently features the dance-battling Rasputin (Rhys Ifans). A man whose threats include “time to dance… on your graves” before going into another spin attack – you decide the correct response. While Rasputin has seemingly been advertised as the main villain this is far from the case, he’s simply a supporting character, a barrier in the way for the protagonists to get to the true antagonist. There are a number of these figures who stand in the way and they each act as slight tangents which, particularly in the second half of the film, push the run-time further.
Each one also adding to a slight mixture of tones and genres from scene to scene that don’t quite gel together – one or two early scenes looking at the grand Oxford home feel like they could be found in an episode of Downton Abbey. The King’s Man is certainly something of a mixed bag in the way that it puts itself across to the viewer. Yet, the core element of the action never seems to properly grab you. There feels to be little flare and so blood is used to liven things up in the stop-start nature of such moments, yet still little effect is to be found. It simply causes such sequences to begin falling into the feeling that the film is becoming almost a pastiche of itself. It causes disconnect between the viewer and the film, enhanced by the winding nature of the narrative. Jumping between characters and locations with various lengthy tangents it simply causes the final piece to feel long and disengaging.
There’s a long and winding nature to the narrative of The King’s Man – perhaps stemming back to its history-twisting villain. It stops the flow from every truly speeding up and means that the action also lacks an impact as you continue to disengage from the general nature of the piece, rattling along its course of tangents, trying to find a way to get its central characters to the finale. Certain elements almost feel tacked on or added to both extend the run-time and try to almost makeup a way to the ending on the spot, as if the narrative is unsure of itself and where it’s meant to go from one point to another. Sometimes choosing to scale the increasing heights and cold of a giant rock rather than simply walk around it.
There’s a more traditional feel to The King’s Man, and yet much of the run-time is spent seemingly extending it with tangents and bursts of relatively ineffective action within the winding, tone-changing plot.