The King's Man Review: Ralph Fiennes' prequel is a hotchpotch of ideas partly saved by its performances

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The King’s Man

The King’s Man Cast: Ralph Fiennes, Djimon Hounsou, Rhys Ifans, Gemma Arterton

The King’s Man Director: Matthew Vaughn

The King’s Man Stars: 2.5/5


To think that The King’s Man was originally slated to release in 2019 and it finally releases in theatres now seems unreal. The film has been delayed multiple times amid the pandemic and most recently, its release was pushed to January 2022 in India owing to the other big releases including Spider-Man: No Way Home which dominated December. The film finally finds its way to the theatres and after having showcased big chunks of its story in the multiple trailers and promos released over the past three years, it’s not a film that the audience is eagerly awaiting.

In the prequel to The Kingsman movies, director Matthew Vaughn tries his hands at making a film that is rich in history, action and drama and it’s a daunting task as he chases the storyline set in the World War I era. While the film is starkly different from its predecessors, that may not be the best thing for the film. Despite having a stellar star cast at hand with the likes of Ralph Fiennes, Rhys Ifans, Tom Hollander among others in lead, Vaughn’s prequel doesn’t stand out as much as one would have expected it to be.

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The film mainly revolves around  Ralph Fiennes’ Orlando Oxford, an aristocrat, who is a self-declared pacifist. The widower after watching his wife die in his arms during the Boer sniper attack turns into an overprotective father towards his son Conrad (Harris Dickinson) as he tries to keep him from enlisting in the army after his son comes of age. Set in the backdrop of the first world war, Oxford finds himself learning about an impending global disaster that is being planned by history’s worst villains and to stop the same, he must put together an elite network to uncover the mastermind behind the plan.

Among those planning to bring the world to an end is also one of history’s most notorious figures, Rasputin (Rhys Ifans).  With the help of his staff consisting of Shola (Djimon Hounsou) and Polly (Gemma Arterton), Oxford (Fiennes) attempts to lure the Russian priest into telling the truth about the plan that could wipe out millions and the name of the real mastermind behind it all although it is only during the final minutes of film that we finally meet real antagonist.

For The Kingsman franchise, what worked in favour of the first two films was its witty writing. Both the films had a sharp dialogue that blended well with its action and unfortunately for The King’s Man, it’s exactly this that seems missing. While an origins story for the secret service organisation seems like a good idea, the packaging of historical events along with an emotional father-son tale seems like an odd combination. Vaughn tries to add too much into this film and hence from Rasputin’s pie-eating and vomiting poison out of his body to Ralph Fiennes’ character getting headbutted by a highland goat, everything seems exta. Not to mention the strange genre-hopping that the film does as it moves from being an action drama to a war story to eventually reminding us that it’s all about the formation of a secret service organisation.

 One of the biggest setbacks for The King’s Man is that it has tonality issues. The film seems scattered and doesn’t make smooth transitions from one emotion to the other as it goes from being a war drama that tries to make commentary on the cost of life to later being an action drama that showcases sword fights and more lethal stuff. Even though Vaughn seems most comfortable while directing the action sequences, the same cannot be said about the emotional bits in the film which seem heavy-handed. The film often shifts gear into a melodramatic space that keeps us from authentically enjoying any feeling that it’s trying to convey.  

The King's Man Review 3

Compared to The Secret Service and The Golden Circle, the prequel is far different and for fans of the latter, The King’s Man may not turn out to be as much enjoyable given that it tries to separate itself from the other two films quality to remain entertaining without trying to take themselves too seriously. With the new one, it seems like Vaughn is trying hard to make a point, sound preacher and in turn, ends up becoming an unnecessary hotchpotch of far too many ideas.

Among the most enjoyable bits of the films though is an elaborate action sequence involving Djimon Hounsou’s Shola and Rhys Ifans’ Rasputin. It’s a treat to see Ifans bring a theatrical quality to his Rasputin, enough to make him hilarious and scary at the same time. As Rasputin and Shola indulge in a duel, it’s no less than a well-choreographed dance sequence that seems like it could have been a nightmare to shoot but is certainly a treat to watch.

ALSO READ: The King’s Man: Final trailer introduces prequel movie’s evil legends; Watch

Another highlight for this film remains its performances and if not for these actors, the film could not have been half as watchable as it turns out to be. Ralph Fiennes is an actor who could read a line from a children’s book and make it sound like Shakespeare and it’s probably this quality of his that helps us remain invested in Fiennes’ story as Orlando Oxford. Yet another amazing performance in the film comes from Rhys Ifans who portrays Rasputin with the right amount of crazy and cool. Every story you have heard about the Russian monk will seem right if you look at Ifans’ eccentric take on him. Djimon Hounsou and Gemma Arterton also land impressive roles that have the potential to be developed more if the franchise continues. Tom Hollander also does a fabulous job as he plays not one but three roles of the cousins, King George, Kaiser Wilhelm and Tsar Nicholas.

Overall The King’s Man offers nothing mind-blowing. The film loses its grip at several points thanks to its genre-hopping storyline and even the suspense that is saved for the big climax doesn’t make you gasp as much as the makers want it to be. For The Kingsman fans, this may not be the prequel that they were waiting for.


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