In the movies The Kingsmen are a secret spy organization whose members have manners that would make Henry Higgins proud and gadgets that James Bond would envy. They’ve been the subject of two movies, “Kingsman: The Secret Service” and “Kingsman: The Golden Circle,” and now, three movies into director Matthew Vaughn’s spy franchise comes an origin story that takes us back to the early part of the 20th century and the confusing beginnings of these modern-day knights.
“The King’s Man,” now playing in theatres, begins with a tragedy that makes the wealthy and powerful Duke of Oxford (Ralph Fiennes) reject the Colonialism and violence that is the bedrock of his family’s fortune. He questions why he was killing people who were trying to protect their own land. “With every man I killed,” he said, “I killed a piece of myself.”
Meanwhile, as World War I approaches, an assembly of the world’s most despicable tyrants and villains, working for an evil mastermind with plans for world domination, are hatching a plan that could lead to genocide.
With the lives of millions at stake, and his son Conrad (Harris Dickinson) off to war, the Duke realizes he can’t rely on politicians to do the right thing. In an effort to save the world, he abandons his pacifist ways. With the help of his most trusted colleagues, swordsman Shola (Djimon Hounsou) and sharp shooter Polly (Gemma Arterton), he goes into the fray and sews the seeds for the formation of The Kingsmen, an organization that uses violence to attain peace.
The first two Kingsmen movies were overstuffed, but had a certain lightness of touch. Unfortunately, “The King’s Man” lands with a thud. A mix of fact (well, almost true stuff) and fiction—real life characters like Rasputin, the mad Russian monk (Rhys Ifans) are woven into the fanciful story—the movie is all over the place. It’s a spy story, a tale of duty, a slapstick comedy, an action film, a fractured fairy tale of world events.
Some of the action scenes are quite fun and Ifans eats so much scenery it feels like he’ll never go hungry again, but the story takes far too long to get going.
“The King’s Man” feels as though it is splintering off in all directions, like it’s three movies spliced-and-diced into one, bloated, messy sequel-ready story.