The Kingsman franchise is back, and, for the third instalment, it heads back in time for a prequel that is both unnecessary and deeply mediocre.
Set against the backdrop of World War I, the story follows widowed Kingsman founder Duke Orlando Oxford (Ralph Fiennes), who is hell-bent on keeping his son (Harris Dickinson) out of the trenches, despite the latter wanting to enlist. Oxford must also deal with the looming threat of a shadowy Scottish separatist and Blofeld stand-in known as The Shepherd, who has his own agents of chaos seeking to control the outcome of global conflict.
Writer-director Matthew Vaughn helms an origin story that can’t decide whether it wants to be a ludicrously camp romp or a played-straight war drama. Consequently, The King’s Man lurches awkwardly between these disparate tones, and ends up half conventional period melodrama, half Spectre rip-off with a few crass gags. Even more muddled than its tone (which is saying something), are its politics: while the convoluted script includes some anti-colonialism beats throughout the runtime, the film’s overall stance feels very conservative and even pro-monarchy in its final moments.
The only redemption is Fiennes’ performance and an out-of-place sequence in which Rasputin (Rhys Ifans) homoerotically commands Orlando to “Take your trousers off and sit down”, before performing an energetic and lethal dance routine to eliminate the enemy British spies in the room. Had it properly embraced this high-camp whatthefuckery and upped the comedy, The King’s Man could have been a royally silly riot, instead of this royal mess.
The King’s Man / D: Matthew Vaughn (UK, 2021), with Ralph Fiennes, Harris Dickinson, Djimon Hounsou, Gemma Arterton. Starts Jan 06.