The King's Man: Review
The King’s Man Synopsis: As a collection of history’s worst tyrants and criminal masterminds gather to plot a war to wipe out millions, Orlando Oxford (Ralph Fiennes) and his team of well-trained peers (Gemma Arterton as Polly and Djimon Hounsou as Shola), must race against time to stop them.
In a climate where big brands remain king, writer/director Matthew Vaughn admirably dedicates himself to the lesser-known allures of The Kingsman franchise. Vaughn and his stylistically kinetic stamp continue to reinvent the cult Mark Millar comic series for a modern audience, borrowing influences of campy, globe-trotting espionage James Bond entries with technical aplomb. While the results garner mixed responses, I appreciate Vaughn and his team for crafting an energized, unapologetically R-rated franchise that walks its own distinct path in the Hollywood marketplace.
The franchise continues to grow with the prequel/spin-off, The King’s Man. Set amidst the trials and tribulations of World War I, Vaughn embraces a new time period in an attempt to expand his dramatic scope. Despite Vaughn’s spirited aspirations, The King’s Man suffers from a severe case of tonal confusion.
Still, I give Vaughn credit for not sticking straight to the series’ blend of shlocky, highly-stylized carnage. With the new period setting, the writer/director intelligently attempts to depict the 1910’s lingering political incompetence. Brash caricatures stand in place for storied historical figures, with Vaughn repackaging his zany energy into an occasionally sharp farce of corruption and government malpractice. It helps that Vaughn solidifies his critiques with genuine moments of weight. In a reflexive change-of-pace, some of the film’s stylized action articulates the senseless cruelty of war rather than indulging in its verbose violence.
All of Vaughn’s new wrinkles add a layer of intrigue to The King’s Man, but the writer/director can’t quite walk the tonal high-wire act he attempts. In an attempt to infuse dramatic undertones within his energetic espionage formula, Vaughn finds himself in a bizarre middle ground. The script’s dramatic connotations lack thematic or emotional impact, often bludgeoning its insights home without dramatic grace. Blended with a cocktail of madcap staples from the franchise, The King’s Man and its vision feels like a dissident shadow of the bright, creative spark behind its predecessors.
With the paternal dynamic between the cocksure Eggsy and the lovably suave Harry notably absent, The King’s Man struggles to invest in its new array of characters. Ralph Fiennes and the skilled cast of character actors certainly try to imbue charisma, but the undercooked screenplay fails to develop meaningful character dynamics. The busy narrative never takes enough breathes to grow the ensemble in their roles. Slapdash attempts at an emotional bond between Oxford and his son lands with a saccharine splat on the face. Side characters render into little more than meaningless action heroes, as Vaughn never injects proper purpose into his cliched narrative elements.
Even an energetic third act can’t save The King’s Man from losing its distinct pulse. While well-intended, Vaughn and company struggle in their attempts to steer the franchise towards new pasture.