At a time when sequels are delighting in a certain sense of nostalgia – looking no further than the latest iterations of Spider-Man, The Matrix, Ghostbusters, and the forthcoming Scream as immediate examples – you have to at least hand it to director Matthew Vaughn for opting out of such a proven trend for The King’s Man, the third (or should that technically be the very first) instalment in his surprisingly viable spy series.
Taron Egerton and Colin Firth are nowhere in sight here, their oft-violent shenanigans traded in for the origin story as to how the top secret organisation that birthed the aforementioned Bond-esque players came to be. Moving considerably further back in time – here we’re in the early 20th century – it’s the Duke of Oxford, Orlando (Ralph Fiennes), who leads the charge, an aristocrat and sworn pacifist who travels the world in a bid to cool political temperatures.
With World War 1 approaching, the Duke has assembled a small team of reliable spy types to join his network of protectors, hoping he can still preach peace whilst they carry out the dirtier, bloodier work; aides Polly (Gemma Arterton) and Shola (Djimon Honsou) not afraid to pick up the slack throughout. Orlando’s son, Conrad (Harris Dickinson), is equally as enthusiastic to join the cause, but daddy dearest, still reeling from witnessing the death of his wife and Conrad’s mother the decade prior, isn’t about to allow his only son to charge into the fray.
Of course, this being a Kingsman film and Orlando and Conrad emulating a similar relationship to that of Egerton’s Eggsy and Firth’s Harry in the latter episodes, the father-son duo come to a partnership that suits them respectively, one that puts them in the violent, unpredictable sights of Rasputin (Rhys Ifans, stealing every scene he possibly can), the “mad monk of Russia” who has a taste for young boys and the ability to literally kill with his dance moves.
The Kingsman offerings have always existed in an exaggerated setting, and, at times, The King’s Man is no different, especially with Ifans’ involvement, whose wild, bi-sexual energy offsets the surprisingly emotional undercurrent that Vaughn’s story sporadically adheres to. We expect over-the-top violence and black humour, but the film’s commitment to blindsiding us with emotion? Truly unexpected, which, in some aspects, makes sense for a film series that oft delights in the unforeseen; I think we can all agree that church massacre in the original film threw us all for six.
Though the film’s 131 minutes is far too indulgent for something so lightweight, it’s fantastical comic-book mentality merging with the boldness of re-writing historical events and figureheads lends The King’s Man enough of a pass to be deemed more worthy than it deserves. We didn’t necessarily need an origin story, but the amount of time between the ending here and the setting of Kingsman: The Secret Service and Kingsman: The Golden Circle – as well as a certain character reveal during the end credits – means there’s possibly more stories to be told, and if Vaughn continues to conjure up such enjoyable streamlined nonsense, who are we to deny him his rights as a storyteller.
THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
The King’s Man is screening in Australian theatres from January 6th, 2022.