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With: Ralph Fiennes, Gemma Arterton, Djimon Hounsou, Rhys Ifans, Matthew Goode, Tom Hollander, Harris Dickinson, Daniel Brühl, Charles Dance, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Stanley Tucci
Written by: Matthew Vaughn, Karl Gajdusek, based on comics created by Mark Millar, Dave Gibbons
Directed by: Matthew Vaughn
MPAA Rating: R for sequences of strong/bloody violence, language, and some sexual material
Running Time: 131
Date: 12/22/2021

The King's Man (2021)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Oxford Yawner

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Despite a clever, history-subverting idea and a few great action set-pieces, this overlong, mostly needless prequel flails all over the place, pretending to abhor violence but actually thriving on it.

Taking place before the events of Kingsman: The Secret Service and Kingsman: The Golden Circle and chronicling the origin of the Kingsman agency, The King's Man begins in 1902 in South Africa. Duke Orlando Oxford (Ralph Fiennes) and his wife and young son travel there on a diplomatic mission, only to be ambushed. Orlando's leg is wounded and his wife is killed. He agrees to her dying wish to keep their son away from violence forevermore.

Years later, a mysterious villain assembles a crew of the most evil men on earth, including Grigori Rasputin "The Mad Monk" (Rhys Ifans) and begins executing global plans to control WWI and rule the world. At home, a grown-up Conrad (Harris Dickinson) wishes to enlist in the army, but Orlando encourages a more non-violent approach: spying and trading information, with help from his faithful servants Shola (Djimon Hounsou) and Polly (Gemma Arterton), in an attempt to end the war. Of course, fights do happen, including a deadly showdown with the mastermind himself, on top of an impossibly high, impossibly dangerous mountain plateau.

Directed and co-written, like its predecessors, by Matthew Vaughn, the ins and outs of the The King's Man story are actually cleverly silly, incorporating bits of history and swirling them around, Forrest Gump-style, into something new. For example, Tom Hollander plays King George, Kaiser Wilhelm, and Tsar Nicholas, who are all — ahem — cousins. Vladimir Lenin and Mata Hari also show up somewhere in this frothy mix, and Ifans's Rasputin is a loony, totally unpredictable creation, lending some energy to the movie, and especially to his balletic fight scene during a lavish Christmas ball.

The final showdown, with Orlando attempting to parachute onto the plateau, becoming trapped in the wing of his plane, and then just missing the edge of the cliff, is a true white-knuckler, smoothly done by director Vaughn. But that's well over two hours into The King's Man.

Too much of the running time veers into insincere attempts to drive home the non-violence theme, including scenes of WWI that are, simply, not funny, and — as Peter Jackson's incredible They Shall Not Grow Old demonstrated — deadly serious. Not to mention the aftermath of those scenes, which fall into weepy pathos and creates a dead spot in the center of the movie. A movie that is seemingly devoted to cleverness, action, and fun finally has too little of any of it to make it worth the effort.

20th Century Studios's Blu-ray release offers a crisp video transfer and sharp sound. There's a generous amount of extras, beginning with a 90-minute behind-the-scenes featurette (split into several parts), a 15-minute featurette on the knife fight, a 26-minute remembrance of the first World War, plus the RedBand trailer. There are several audio tracks and subtitle options as well.

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