Film review by Jason Day of The King’s Man (2021), the action adventure flick that stars Ralph Fiennes as an aristocratic founder of a spy agency. Co-starring Gemma Arterton and directed by Matthew Vaughan.
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Following the death of his wife, the Earl of Oxford (Ralph Fiennes) commits himself to pacifism. As his more trigger-happy and beloved son Conrad (Harris Dickinson) matures, the two are placed in conflict.
In 1914 the world is on the verge of plunging into the first major war that will wipe out millions and father and son have to work as espionage agents to avert conflict, leading them to meet Rasputin (Rhys Ifans) and other dangerous contacts.
Review by @Reelreviewer
There’s odd and then there’s The King’s Man odd.
After all, it’s not in every movie or documentary you see the last Tzar of Russia and his missus on their knees greedily necking drops of heroin, after their hemophiliac son has been drugged to make it look like he’s convulsing by their ‘caring’ monk/confidant/counsellor.
This scene was a bit of a surprise to me – and I’m fairly familiar with this period of Russian history – so I did a but of ‘Google research’ and it seems, if rumour is to be believed, the Tsaritza at least may have dabbled in druggage (I’ll not mention much about the Romanov’s murder as depicted here, but it was at the hands of a drunken and inept firing squad not a solo, sober photographer).
Still, I’m no expert so perhaps it’s also true that self-confessed mystic and healer Rasputin also cured the lame by licking their battle scares, as Ifans does to a suitably surprised Ralph Fiennes in The King’s Man’s most bizarre moment. It made me squirm as much as the ‘dental torture’ scene in Marathon Man (1976).
Nearly as weird – and equally unwanted – are other moments in this lavishly produced and gorgeous-looking but ingloriously excessive piece. Little wannabe hero Conrad’s mother walks toward him as bullets from two enemies hail around her (why not crawl along the floor? Or take cover?) and Matthew Goode’s kilt-raising Scotch accent makes him sound like Fat Bastard in the Austin Powers movies.
The movie follows the previous two installments in presenting excessive, extended and unrealistic ultra-violence as being funny or entertaining. Neither outcome is achieved; they just become boring, making a very long movie even more arduous to watch.
As a certifiably not odd move, the producers have assembled an incredible cast, topped by Fiennes who must have headlined every major British blockbuster this past 30 years. Here he seems slightly confused about what movie set he is on, so his performance is neither good nor bad, but merely cautious and numb to the proceedings. He blissfully walks through his scenes almost with his hands up as if to say “It ain’t my fault!”
Following in the impressive footsteps of the effortlessly cheeky, swaggering and suave Taron Egerton were always going to be difficult steps to take, so it’s no fault of the beautiful and competent Dickinson that he pales in comparison. He makes a good fist of it but the part is not as well written. And also, I did enjoy the first two Kingsman movies and yearn for working class Eggsy!
There’s something deliciously unconvincing about Arterton’s northern accent. This fabulous lady of mostly British cinema productions was born in Kent and here turns in a wonderfully exaggerated but still acceptable, vaguely Yorkshire/Lancashire tone. It’s perfectly in keeping with her no-nonsense, Mary Poppins character and she remains a steady delight throughout an off-kilter movie.
In a splendid quirk of casting we have the regal Tom Hollander in three roles here: Kaiser Wilhelm II, Tzar Nicholas II and our own George V. The three men shared a distinct physicality so, with the minimum of makeup and hairstyling, this is a neat way to highlight how one big monarchical family were all to blame for the cataclysm of World War I.
Also worth watching but seriously underused is the strapping Hounsou – 57 but easily looking 25 years younger – as Dickinson’s servant/mentor. The earlier scenes of the movie may have been more interesting focusing on how Hounsou – and Arteron – help Conrad mature.
Cast & credits
Director: Matthew Vaughan. 2hr 10 min/130 min. 20th Century Studios/Marv Films/Marv Studios. (15).
Producers: Adam Bohling, David Reid, Matthew Vaughn.
Writers: Matthew Vaughn, Karl Gajdusek.
Camera: Ben Davis.
Music: Dominic Lewis, Matthew Margeson.
Sets: Darren Gilford.
Ralph Fiennes, Gemma Arterton, Rhys Ifans, Harris Dickinson, Djimon Hounsou, Tom Hollander, Matthew Goode, Charles Dance, Daniel Brühl, Valerie Pachner, Joel Basman, Ron Cook, Barbara Drennan.