“The King’s Man” is an unnecessary prequel to director Matthew Vaughn’s action spy series of films. “The King’s Man” sees the formation of the agency as they attempt to foil the plans of a mastermind villain intent on plunging the world into total war.
Pro – Working too hard
Ralph Fiennes is a wonderful actor, and in “The King’s Man” he is acting his guts out every scene that he is in. His character, Orlando Oxford, faces a couple of emotionally charged situations, and amongst all the chaos, Fiennes has the power to share with the audience a sense of the emotion his character is feeling. It’s impressive stuff. Unfortunately, Fiennes feels like a man wearing a tuxedo to a Halloween party. Everyone seems in on the joke but Fiennes, and his stoic performance just serves to juxtapose the poor quality of the film. Put another way, it’s like eating Taco Bell with a silver fork.
Con – Frankenstein’s Monster
Perhaps the cardinal sin of “The King’s Man” is that it truly feels like it has no idea what it wanted to be. It oscillates between colonial moral epic, epic war satire, bubble gum spy romp, and historical spoof at a breakneck pace, with other bits and pieces thrown in. In truth, looking back through Fiennes’ IMDB, this film feels strangely like a cocaine-fueled video collage of his impressive filmography.
The tonal shifts are so drastic that the film is incredibly off-putting. In truth, if it could have settled into one of these broader categories, it might have had a lot to offer. Fiennes is giving an Oscar-level performance with a Razzy-level script, but he’s surrounded by plenty of talent. The locations are lavish and the special effects impressive. The film just simply doesn’t know what it want’s to be. It’s hard to take the death of a character with emotional seriousness 12 minutes after Rasputin is jump-spinning on a table while licking wounds and swinging a sword. “The King’s Man” is a masterclass on not picking a vision and going with it.
Con – Historically bad
Full disclosure: this reviewer is a former history teacher who not only values the discipline of history generally, but specifically spent a lot of time discussing the very time period covered in this film. With the potential bias out of the way, “The King’s Man” feels incredibly disrespectful to the people and events surrounding World War I. Of course, thick skin is incredibly important in art, and there is a long, prestigious, and even incredibly entertaining tradition of black comedy and the lampooning of historical events and characters. The problem with “The King’s Man” is the handling of the material feels clumsy and uneven. That’s not a great look for a time period that saw the deaths of 21 million people and destruction of countless amounts of property and materials, especially when the film wants to use the gravity of these events to be serious at moments and downright silly at others.
“The King’s Man” has the makings of about seven good films. Unfortunately, it shoves them all together into an unholy and unentertaining shepherd’s pie. Ralph Fiennes’ efforts only serve to underscore the poor quality of the film. Give this movie a pass and instead head over to the Fridley Palms Theatre and check out something better.