There has been a resurgence of interest in WWI in recent years, no doubt due to the 100th anniversary of the event, and this has been particularly prominent in the movies. From the standalone feature film “Wonder Woman” in 2017 to the Oscar-winning “1917” in 2019, a better understanding and exploration of war is being exhibited for the first time to younger generations.
Surprisingly, the Great War is the setting for the final installment of the British comedic spy series “Kingsman”, which is based on a series of graphic novels and takes place mostly in modern times. While the previous two films feel much closer to James Bond, the new prequel and origin story, “The King’s Man,” goes in an old-fashioned but refreshing direction.
For decades, WWII and Vietnam were the most common settings for war films, but the popularity of WWI has been just as important in recent times, especially because of its educational value and Gruesome stories are just as crucial to understanding the 20th century as these two other international conflicts.
At the same time, “The King’s Man” is a fun action / adventure film as well as a gripping period drama. There are scenes that could be taken straight from a Ken Burns documentary and others that could fit right into “Downton Abbey”. While not as funny as its predecessors, there is a lot of fun for everyone.
The story follows Orlando Oxford (played by Ralph Fiennes), an important ally of King George V (Tom Hollander, who also plays Kaiser Wilhelm and Tsar Nicholas in a fun casting pick) around the time it looks like the start of World War I is inevitable.
Fed up with childish politics, Oxford creates his own spy ring with the help of Shola (Djimon Hounsou) and Polly (Gemma Arterton), two geniuses who also happen to be servants of his domain, able to hide in the seen by so many privileged people. white men ignore them.
Meanwhile, a dark villain plans to plunge the world into chaos with the help of his own spy ring, including Rasputin (Rhys Ifans). As the war grows bloodier, Oxford struggles to keep his son Conrad (Harris Dickinson) from the front lines, preaching pacifism and protection wherever possible.
“The King’s Man” was one of the worst victims of the coronavirus pandemic. First delayed from November 2019 to February 2020 for reasons unrelated to COVID, the film was delayed three more times over two years before finally being released this month.
In all that extra time allotted to the post-production process, you’d think director / writer Matthew Vaughn and his team would have found a way to tighten up and streamline this story for a more cohesive tone. If he wants to make it more comedic like the rest, that’s fine, and if he wants to take a more serious path as a Great War origin story, that’s fine too, but the mix of two led to several awkward and surprisingly jarring. moments that did not gel at all.
Nonetheless, a great cast across the board helps to energize this story and its characters. Fiennes continues to impress as a high society British leader who can fight as well as he can talk and drink a cup of tea as he has done with many characters over the decades. Hounsou and Arterton are the best elements of the film, but they are criminally underused, especially Hounsou is one of the best actors of his generation but constantly relegated to supporting roles.
While the action and secret spy scenes are entertaining, the actual historical context and exploration of how and why WWI happened was fascinating, although some liberties were taken for the entertainment. For example, I had no idea that King George of England, Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany, and Tsar Nicholas of Russia were all first cousins and grandsons of Queen Victoria, and World War I was essentially a adult version of the games they were playing. like children – a simple and fun history lesson.
While not as funny or action-packed as the first two films, “The King’s Man” has enough well-done and thrilling moments to make it a worthy addition to the series. With two more installments already in the works, I can’t wait to see where Vaughn takes us next.