By Ben Konuch
“Our enemies think we are gentlemen, but reputation is what people think of you. Character is what you are.”
“The King’s Man” is a history-based spy thriller written and directed by Mathew Vaughn and serves as a prequel to “Kingsman: The Secret Service.” Set amidst the backdrop of World War I, the film follows the Duke of Oxford and his family (both blood relations and found family) as they begin the world’s first independent intelligence organization in order to expose a conspiracy at the center of the conflict enveloping the world. While “The King’s Man” does have some small pacing issues in its first half and has less action than the previous Kingsman films, this one has an emotional core and a gripping story that makes its scenes of fantastically choreographed action even more special when they do come. All in all, “The King’s Man” was one of my favorite action films this year, and is sure to be beloved by both longtime Kingsman fans and newcomers alike.
The film stars Ralph Fiennes and Harris Dickinson as the Duke of Oxford and his son Conrad, and after a tragedy at the film’s beginning, the Duke takes a vow of pacifism. As the world soon starts to head into the direction of a World War, Conrad realizes he wants to pursue a path that differs from his father. While the Duke is reluctant to get involved with war, even when his friend Archduke Ferdinand is assassinated, Conrad endeavors to get them both involved in stopping a horrible conspiracy that threatens everything they love.
Ralph Fiennes as the Duke shines as the film’s main protagonist
As a fan of history, “The King’s Man” truly shines as a historical thriller. It plays loose with history, threading a fictional conspiracy into real world events, but does so in a way that’s mesmerizing to watch. The period accurate sets, the unique setting of a world at war for the first time, and the old technology and “innovations” of the day all add to make a historical spy film the likes of which I haven’t seen since the 1960’s television series “The Wild, Wild West”.
What’s more, “The King’s Man” retains the main element that has made the franchise beloved by action fans: the fantastic fight scenes. A Kingsman movie can be identified by a specific style of action that director Mathew Vaughn first created back with “Kingsman: The Secret Service”, and while fight scenes are a bit less frequent in this film, they still have that visceral effect when they do come. The stunt choreographers not only create amazing sequences, but Vaughn frames these fights with wonderful camerawork that never stays still, but also doesn’t disorent with frequent fast cuts like many action films do. In the end, “The King’s Man” having slightly less action in order to build up a more mature and emotional story is completely justified by having the action that we do get being some of the best in the franchise.
Lastly, what truly makes “The King’s Man” special is more than just a strong plot or flashy action, it’s how the film takes a deliberate step back from the franchise that spawned it in order to create something that is unique, while still feeling distinctly Kingsman. “The Secret Service” and “The Golden Circle” both had a strange mixture of shocking violence and comedic lightheartedness in tone that worked for many, but also turned many away. “The King’s Man”, however, has a much more consistent tone. There is violence as well as comedy, but the theme and style of this film never feels at war with themselves like other films in the franchise sometimes did. This is done by having “The King’s Man” be driven by its characters and the audience’s attachment to them. Sure, the plot of the film does entail evil villains and world-spanning conspiracies, but at its core, “The King’s Man” is a serious, thoughtful, and at times shockingly emotional tale of family, loss, and love in the face of unspeakable adversity.
The relationship between Conrad and the Duke makes “The King’s Man” more than just an empty action film.
Ralph Fiennes as the Duke is an amazingly layered performance of both a father and a gentleman, and as the film’s main protagonist, he proves to be a surprisingly relatable and admirable character. Likewise, seeing his struggle of ideologies with Conrad gives a different sense of desperation to “The King’s Man”, and seeing how that struggle would be resolved had me almost as intrigued as the main plotline. Djimon Hounsou and Gemma Arterton also have small but extremely important supporting roles that stole my heart even with little screentime, adding a theme of found-family onto the preexisting themes of family and familial tensions. Combine all that with one of the most uncomfortable villains I’ve ever seen on film in Rhys Ifan’s Rasputin, and you get a film filled to the brim with characters that are memorable as well as loveable.
Ra-Ra-Rasputin was one of the few times an onscreen character actually managed to make me physically uncomfortable.
With all of its parts put together, “The King’s Man” stands strong as a unique, historical action thriller that cares as much about its characters as it does about having flashy fights. Strong lead performances add to this, and while its more serious and more grounded tone may be off-putting for hardcore fans of the Kingsman franchise, its minor flaws and slower pacing is nothing compared to the weight of its story and spectacle of its moments of action.
For these reasons, I give “The King’s Man” a 9/10.
“The King’s Man” is currently playing in theaters.
Ben Konuch is a freshman strategic communications student and an A&E writer for Cedars. He enjoys getting sucked into good stories, playing video games and failing horribly at wallyball with his friends.