“It’s the small things that can grow into big problems,” Ralph Finnes says as Orlando Oxford in The King’s Man. It’s an apropos quote to describe director Matthew Vaughn’s latest installment in the Kingsman franchise. What starts as a fun adventure epic slowly devolves into a tonal mess that tries too many things and is irredeemable.
Where the first two films, Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014) and Kingsmen: The Golden Circle (2017), follow the training and missions of Taron Egerton’s young secret agent with his mentor played by Colin Firth, The King’s Man depicts the origins of their organization. Those beginnings start with a reworking and butchering of historical events leading up to The Great War with appearances from iconic figures like King George, Kaiser Wilhelm, and Tsar Nicholas (all played by Tom Hollander), Erik Jan Hanussen (Daniel Brühl), and Grigori Rasputin (Rhys Ifans).
Opposing them is Duke and military man Fiennes’ Oxford who is struggling with his duties to his country while simultaneously trying to shelter his son, Conrad (Harris Dickinson) with the help of his staff led by Polly (Gemma Arterton) and Shola (Djimon Hounsou). When fellow countrymen (Charles Dance and Matthew Goode) are killed on the brink of war, he decides to break his promise of passivism and induct his son into a secret organization that would try to broker peace between Germany, England, and Russia.
It’s all very confusing. With an enormous cast of character actors (some of which are severely underused), it’s hard to keep track of all the storylines. It doesn’t help that The King’s Man doesn’t know if it’s a spy thriller, war story, or adventure comedy. The tone jumps around as much as the plot does. In one scene, the film seems to be channeling the gravity of 1917 while in another Rasputin is licking Oxford’s wounded leg in a moment of such absurdity, it feels vaguely homophobic.
While Kingsman: The Golden Circle didn’t always stick the landing or land every joke, the absurdity was at least fun. Elton John in full costume playing his hits to an evil Julianne Moore in the middle of the jungle is charming. The lack of consistency in tone makes the absurd comedy of this film almost abhorrent.
The King’s Man often forgets that it’s a prequel. It tries to weave connections between the previous two films but they are either not obvious enough or they fall flat. While the Fantastic Beasts franchise certainly has its problems, it still feels like they are a part of the Harry Potter universe. While The King’s Man’s production design is the film’s one redeeming quality, its visual style is not enough to connect to the previous two installments.
The King’s Man was delayed four times before being delayed further by the pandemic. Theoretically, Vaughn and 20th Century had time to redeem themselves and rework the film. Instead, they’ve released a film that calls into question the future of the Kingsman franchise.
The King’s Man will hit theaters this Wednesday. Watch the trailer below.