The King's Man (aka Kingsman: The Great Game) review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
Yes, this is the prequel to the Kingsman series of over-the-top spy action, but hear this film out. Despite once more being developed by Matthew Vaughn, this picture has very little to do with the previous films. It features no returning characters or younger versions of the modern films, given that it’s set during World War I. It also doesn’t boast the same style of shooting where the action sequences don’t favor that one-shot technique for violent conflict. It feels like such a different film and it’s all the more entertaining for not just settling on the over-the-top nature the saga once favored of exploding heads, blades for legs, robot dogs, humans ground into hamburgers, and Elton John.
First off, you got Ralph Fiennes playing a fascinating man of the world, Orlando Oxford. He’s a former soldier who aims to vow for non-violence, having grown disgusted with death and lost his wife to conflict. Having watched his best partner during a mission of peace, he vows to keep his son Conrad out of war. That may not be an easy task. World War I is on the horizon and Conrad is aiming to fight, even if it means going against the wishes of his father. Orlando, being an expert as both soldier and spy, is called upon by the United Kingdom to do his part. Even though Orlando favors keeping his profession free of violence when he can, that’s a vow he may have to break as the political tensions rise in Europe.
Orlando’s connection with the Kingsman, which seems more like an afterthought, is that he has a network of spies acting as butlers and maids. Two of the finest in this profession are right by his side. Shola (Djimon Hounsou) is a butler but also a skilled close-combat warrior, eager to teach his skills to the high-spirited Conrad. Polly (Gemma Arterton) is the confident maid who not only gives Orlando the best kick-starting to do something but also happens to be handy with a gun, covering the long-range operations. Together, they aim to unravel a secret evil organization that is instigating World War I and manipulating it for the desired outcome of the UK falling. Without giving too much away, a sex tape is involved. Well, sex film strip, you know.
Feinnes is a big draw for this picture. He gives this action-adventure a whole lot of dimension beyond just classy style and delivery he does so well. When suffering loss, he turns into a drunken mess. When celebrating his son’s birthday, he’s a cheerful dad boasting a knit sweater. When facing combat, he goes hard with grit. When trying to spy, he remains ever the dapper deceiver. He’s just so irresistible in this picture.
Also stealing a good portion of the screen as Rhys Ifans in the role of Rasputin. He’s playing Rasputin as a member of an evil sect and acts as a black knight for Orlando to best for info. But this is not an ordinary Bond antagonist. This Rasputin is a sexually aggressive, mystic weaving, and a ballet-obsessed madman. His highlight of the film is his duel with Orlando, using Russian ballet moves to kick Orlando’s ass and cut him up with knives. The only way that Orlando can match such craziness in this scene is by committing to a duel without pants. Yes, this is a film where a half-naked Feinnes and a ballet kung-fu Ifans square off and it’s just as wild and exciting as it sounds.
That being said, there’s quite a bit of restraint for a Kingsman movie. The scenes depicting trench warfare in World War I don’t feel as exagerrated or tongue-in-cheek as the other fights. In fact, they’re the darkest part of the picture, loaded with vicious cruelty and brutality. This is later balanced out with Orlando’s climactic battle of the secret villain on a cliffside hideout. The fight that takes place there is both thrilling and impressively shot. I really dug the camera angles that favor the hilt, showing some cleverness to the chaos.
The King’s Man succeeds in not just toppling the other Kingsman movies but being more of its own action-adventure picture that requires no association with the series. The cast is in top form, the action is intensely exciting, and the humor is thankfully kept to fairly low-key absurdities to give off some class. Much like what Rasputing does in his tense conversation with Orlando, this is a film that can have its tart and eat it as well.