THE KING’S MAN (2022)

Ralph Fiennes and Djimon Hounsou in a still
  • Release Date: 14/01/2022
  • Cast: Ralph Fiennes, Gemma Arterton, Djimon Hounsou, Harris Dickinson, Rhys Ifans
  • Director: Mathew Vaughn 

The King’s Man violently oscillates between being great and ordinary

— Ambar Chatterjee

The King’s Man is a prequel to the two Kingsman films released in 2015 and 2017. This film was slated to release in 2019 but was pushed back 7 times due to the pandemic and is finally getting what can only be called only a semblance of a release atleast here in Indian where theaters are closed in many major circuits. The film’s story revolves around the Duke Of Oxford played by Ralph Fiennes who lost his wife to a sniper in the 2nd Boer War in Africa and has ever since kept his son, Conrad (Harris Dickinson) far away from war and violence.  

While Oxford is a doting father and micromanages his son’s life, he is also dedicated enough to king and country to run an intricate network of spies from the innards of his palatial mansion and the fitting rooms of the King’s Man tailors. He soon realizes that the world was at the brink of the First World War and tries his best to foil the biddings of a Scottish super villain and his eclectic assemblage of villains that includes Rasputin, Mata Hari, and Gavrilo Princip. Sadly, Oxford is unable to stop the inevitable and soon the world is at war. What he didn’t take into account was that his son would be spirited and independent enough to shun his father’s protection and jump in the middle of the conflict to do what he believed was his duty. What happens next is what The King’s Man is all about.   

There are atleast three films in this one film that are mashed together but remain so different in their respective tones that one can practically pinpoint the crevasses in the narrative and the tonal shifts. The first half of the film toggles between classic Kingsman stuff and the interpersonal drama between the father and son who are both not willing to budge from their points. The spy stuff involving Oxford, Polly (Gemma Arterton), Shola (Djimon Hounsou), and the eclectic mix of villains is investing and has the same outlandish feel to it that made the previous Kingsman films so much fun. These portions are efficiently envisioned and well-executed. The cinematography is beautiful and the action set pieces are proficiently pulled off.

Gemma Arterton as Polly in a still

This, however, cannot be said about the drama bits between the father and the son. After a while, the same discussions and hue and cry about their respective approaches to how the son should live out his life gets tedious. This portion feels very different from the peppy tone of the spy stuff and inhabits a world of its own that is boring and feels forced. It must also be added that Harris Dickinson, who plays the son in these sequences falls flat in comparison to Ralph Fiennes and is neither able to incite our interest in the character nor keep us invested in the prolonged dramatic sequences between the two.  

As was the case with the previous Kingsman films, the villains here are colorful and outrageous. We have everyone from Lenin to Mata Hari and Rasputin to Adolf Hitler. Rhys Ifans as Rasputin is still the best and the most outrageous villain in the film. Ifans not only looks the part but is able to successfully transform some of the craziest things that we have heard or read about Rasputin into tangible traits of the onscreen character weaving it into his mannerisms. This makes the character that much more appealing. It also carries forward the franchises’ reputation of having great antagonists that not only make a splash but also leave a sizeable impact.

Sadly, that cannot be said about the actual super-villain of the film who should have been better or for that matter atleast as imposing as Ifans’ rendering of Rasputin. This was one of my major complaints about the film. The director builds up and teases the character from the very beginning but ultimately disappoints as the character turns out to be weak and caricaturish. He should have put in a little more thought into making it more imposing and one with better-defined motivations to do what he was shown doing. The rendering of the character by a certain actor could have been better too.

Ralph Fiennes in a still

There is a prolonged portion in the film wherein, Conrad finds himself in the middle of World War I. These sequences took me back to my memories of a film like 1917. While there are parts in these sequences wherein the film feels self-aware and sticks to its over-the-top nature, there were also moments that sent shivers down my spine. The director wanted to go the serious way and in that he was right but then he remembered that he was making a “Kingsman” film and retorted back to within his boundaries. Having said that, this portion of the film felt like a 3rd and different part altogether and gave the vibes of being a well-made WWI drama.

I felt that the film tried to do too many things on the story front. It would have served the film better if they concentrated on the central plot involving World War I and the politics of it. That way there would have been more room to infuse a lot more action and also let the audiences enjoy the delightful performance of Ifans as Rasputin and also flesh out some of the other villains like Daniel Brühl as Erik Jan Hanussen. The lack of action was particularly painful as whatever little where there were done so well that it was criminal not to provide more of the same.

Ralph Fiennes was terrific as Oxford. He was able to communicate his tragedy, success, patriotism, and outlook towards life and the world through his mannerisms and action. That is one of the best things that an actor can do and his performance elevated most of the sequences that he was in. The biggest surprise for me was how good he was at the comedy. Gemma Arterton has a minuscule role but she makes her presence felt. Djimon Hounsou is always a pleasure in these over-the-top characters and he does what we love him for. Charles Dance is great in a short but important role. Tom Hollander is good in a triple role.  

Rhys Ifans as Rasputin in a still

The King’s Man will be a divisive film for most of the fans of the franchise. I loved it for the heartfelt back story that is provided for the development of the clandestine Kingsman society by Oxford and how well Mathew Vaughn was able to connect it with the ethos and the history of the Kingsman that was orally revealed by Harry Hart in the first “Kingsman” film. I enjoyed the World War 1 bit and its implication on the story. I loved the character of Rasputin and that of the protagonist. I thoroughly enjoyed the few action sequences that were there.

However, there were prolonged portions in between that were boring. Tonally, the film was all over the place. It didn’t utilize the era that it was set in to give the audiences a lot more of the visual spectacle that it could have. The primary antagonist and his inspirations for doing what he was showing doing were poorly envisioned. Most of the performances were just about “Ok” apart from the ones I mentioned earlier. Having said all that, The King’s Man is still a decent one-time watch.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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