It’s never enjoyable to see a franchise take a wrong turn. The Kingsman series, consisting previously of Kingsman: The Secret Service and Kingsman: The Golden Circle, were incredibly fun films that played around with the spy genre. They sent up those sorts of flicks while still being top notch action efforts. Now, unfortunately things have gone downhill. The King’s Man is an unnecessary prequel that seeks to answer all of the questions you never asked. Lacking noticeably in fun and becoming a muddled slog, this movie is a chore. Individual moments and even sequences work, periodically hinting at what makes the franchise work, but it’s far from a successful effort. For Matthew Vaughn and company, the third time is definitely not the charm.
The King’s Man never once justifies its own existence. Sure, there’s something potentially interesting in making this adventure a period piece, but by doing that, the fun of it all is drained. Instead, we have an inconsistent action epic that seems to randomly throw in some humor that’s not as sharp as previously. A darker tone does sort of fit the plot, but it also contributes to the film’s ultimate downfall.
A prequel, this details how the spy organization Kingsman came to be. In the early 1900s, as the world moves towards war, pacifist Orlando Oxford (Ralph Fiennes) tries to prevent the conflict. Having long hated violence due to losing his wife to it, he seeks to prevent his eager son Conrad (Harris Dickinson) from joining up. Along with his house staff Polly (Gemma Arterton) and Shola (Djimon Hounsou), he eventually reveals to Conrad that they’re spies, ready to work behind the scenes in the name of peace. It’s a good thing, too, since dark forces are amassing to make World War I not just happen, but engulf the planet.
Among those seeking to bring war to the world are a conniving Grigori Rasputin (Rhys Ifans), as well as a shadowy figure pulling all the strings. Hopping across the globe, Conrad teams up with his father to thwart their efforts. Of course, war seems inevitable, and if Orlando is determined to sit it out, can he stop his son? By the end, battles will be fought, but more importantly, a secret agency will be established to try and save the day going forward.
As good an actor as Ralph Fiennes is, he never really fits here. Admittedly, he’s all-in on the material, not phoning it in, but he’s saddled with a bland character. Then again, he’s a bundle of energy compared to Harris Dickinson. Both are just very much in the shadow of Taron Egerton‘s Eggsy and Colin Firth‘s Harry Hart. A major issue for the film is the lack of compelling characters to follow. The franchise has never had that issue before, and even with Fiennes’ talent, that’s quite evident here. The rest of the cast, including Gemma Arterton, Daniel Brühl, Charles Dance, Matthew Goode, Tom Hollander, Djimon Hounsou, and Rhys Ifans, are thoroughly wasted.
Filmmaker Matthew Vaughn, along with co-writer Karl Gajdusek, try to utilize a more grounded villain in a way here, but in the process, betray what a Kingsman movie should be. Overly long, underwhelming with its plot, and building to an ending that just isn’t worth your time, it really feels like there was no idea here. The King’s Man reeks of only being made because the first two made money. It happens, obviously, and at times the final product still works, but this comes off as everyone just shrugging their shoulders. Vaughn’s direction is still snappy, but he and Gajdusek also lose a lot of the humor that was a hallmark of this series. There’s a kernel of a good idea, tying it into real world events, but it does not work.
The King’s Man is a major disappointment. Instead of being a thrilling new chapter, one that fills in several blanks, it just sticks out like a sore thumb with how unnecessary it is. I would gladly watch another Kingsman sequel from Vaughn, but this installment just did not work. Hell, I still think he’s a filmmaker who should get a crack at a James Bond flick. In the meantime, there are better blockbuster options that will be in theaters, so there’s no reason to give this one your time.