At the Movies with Alan Gekko: The King’s Man “2021”

At the Movies with Alan Gekko: The King’s Man “2021”

MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Spy Action/Stars: Ralph Fiennes, Gemma Arterton, Djimon Hounsou, Rhys Ifans, Harris Dickinson, Matthew Goode, Tom Hollander, Daniel Brühl, Charles Dance, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Joel Basman, Valerie Pachner, Alexandra Maria Lara, Olivier Richters, Todd Boyce, Aaron Vodovoz, Ron Cook, Stanley Tucci, Branka Katić, August Diehl, Ian Kelly, David Kross, Neil Jackson/Runtime: 131 minutes

I think it is a fairly safe statement to make that even with only a pair of entries to its name at a certain point in time, the viewer should have had a very good vibe as what to expect from the Kingsman franchise. To be sure, this vibe will most likely make a comeback when we get back to the continuing saga of Harry Hart and Eggsy which, as of this writing, seems likely either in 2023 or 2024. At the same time though, that doesn’t mean that this franchise can’t provide the movie goer with a cinematic curve ball or two along the way. Something that movie goers received in late 2021 in the form of The King’s Man which manages to give us a distinct twist on the titular spy unit that is at the core of this franchise. To that end, you should know that whilst yes, this prequel does desire to be a bit grimmer than the previous two entries, this slice of cinema does remember to include moments that will remind you of the first two entries that will make fans smile with glee. Indeed it is no surprise to learn that blockbuster slices of cinema aren’t exactly outliers in the month of December as was evident by the movies that opened alongside this film last year. To that end, the best thing that this slice of cinema has going for it, besides its terrific cast as well as a few other positives, is the fact that this film is a bona-fide cinematic treat for those who like a slice of cinema that is very much a modern-day throwback to a film like Where Eagles Dare from 1968 complete with flashes of goofy comedy and gonzo action in equal measure. That and let’s be honest dear reader: whereas a lot of cinematic ventures are designed to be family accessible, it also doesn’t hurt in the least that this slice of cinema is one that is most assuredly meant for older kids (or grown-ups as I think they are also called). Suffice it to say sure there may be issues with this slice of cinema to be found, but by and large this is still a fairly well-made on both sides of the camera effort that I feel should please both the casual adult movie goer as well as the veteran to this franchise in fairly equal measure.

The plot is as follows: So back in the very first Kingsman movie in 2014, you may (or may not; I mean in all fairness it has been a solid 8 years since that movie first came out) recall how the character of Harry Hart regaled his protégé Eggsy with the story of about how, in the aftermath of the First World War, a group made up of members of the upper tiers of British society who had lost people in the midst of that horrendous conflict decided to pool their resources together and form the first fully independent intelligence agency on the planet. To that end, this slice of cinema is the one that endeavors to flesh out this story a bit further and show us it for ourselves through the point of view of a man by the name of Orlando. Once a man of action, we see that events that took place during his time in the service have made him switch belief systems and, as a result, now sees him spending his days with his wife Emily and their beloved son Conrad assisting the Red Cross in more charitable ventures as a member of the British nobility specifically as the Duke of Oxford. However, when a tragedy occurs at a Red Cross camp in South Africa that the family has been assisting which hits a bit too close to home, we see Orlando devote himself to ensuring his son’s safety from conflict and just the world in general no matter what the cost. Unfortunately, this being mostly set in 1914, we see that this task is about to get significantly more difficult due in large part to the fact that a team of despicable villainy led by an enigmatic individual only known as the Shepherd has managed to come together with a diabolical scheme cooked up to pit three of Europe’s most noteworthy leaders against each other and in the process incite a conflict the likes of which the world had not seen up to that point in time, but would surely see the loss of millions of innocent people as a result. Thus, with Conrad itching to sign up to do his part and time not exactly proving to be on his side can our intrepid hero find a way to keep his son safe even while trying to thwart these sinister forces, discover the identity of their leader, and do it all before a catastrophe on a scale hitherto undreamt of at that particular point in time is unfurled across the entire planet? That dear reader I will leave for you to discover for yourself…..

Now behind the camera it should be said that perhaps the key positive that this slice of cinema has going for it is in regards to how its helmer Matthew Vaughn, who incidentally also co-penned this installment alongside scribe Karl Gajdusek, is able to thread both actual historical events which occurred into the fabric of the story that he is working with here. As a result, we see that operatives for Kingsman are able to be around at such events in world history as the assassination of a certain world leader with the last name of Ferdinand and yet feel like they are there organically rather than shoehorned in merely for the sake of the story. Indeed, if you are one who is not quite aware of how the First World War got underway then I can definitely see how there will be some moments in this slice of cinema that seem so absurd that you will just write them off as fictions conjured up by the movie rather than ice cold fact. Yet that is where I can honestly say that you might not be as right in your guessing as you may think since this slice of cinema’s creative team is very much aware to stay honest to what did occur as much as possible with only a few distinct Kingsman touches here and there including (obviously) the Legion of Doom-style group of antagonists and their shadowy leader who are out to annihilate the planet. As a result, we see that this is able to go quite a way toward making this slice of cinema equally more distinct and more intelligent than you may have anticipated before sitting down to give it a view. With that said though, there is one potential drawback to this approach that I feel is worth mentioning. That being that it really does feel quite a bit throughout this slice of cinema’s runtime that Vaughn was really aiming to conjure up a war film for us and then found a way to insert the Kingsman into it instead of being the reverse. This is a bit problematic because, for a slice of cinema that is supposed to be an origin saga for the titular group, I really do feel like you will learn less on that subject and more on the First World War. With that in mind, it should also be noted that this entry, perhaps due to taking place in what is still regarded as an ominous era in the history of the world, is more restrained in its approach. Indeed, whereas the first two movies are quite lively and kinetic cinematic outings, this one is a bit grimmer and emotional as well. No it’s not what you might have come to think you’d see from a series that has had some rather….colorful moments in it, but at the very least you can’t argue that the franchise isn’t willing to diversify when need be. Yet lest you worry that there is nothing of the old Kingsman to be found here I can happily say that isn’t the case as there are a few of this franchise’s signature flairs still on display including some lively camerawork and the trademark brand of gonzo violence. It’s just that it does feel like, rather than being a gonzo and lively action-fest, this one is trying to be more like a stylish and old-school spy flick in the vein of something like Where Eagles Dare from 1968 and in that regard this slice of cinema definitely works and then some.

Of course, it also certainly doesn’t hurt this slice of cinema in the least that the cast in front of the camera are, by and large, all operating at the pinnacle of their respective acting abilities. Indeed this starts with one of the most delightful surprises that this slice of cinema has going for it which is the lead performance given by Ralph Fiennes in the role of Orlando. Now what is delightfully surprising here is not that he is good since I for one have felt that Fiennes has always been one of our finest actors for pretty much the entirety of his career. Rather, it is in the manners in which he is good here that may prove to be a wee bit surprising. Indeed since the character of Orlando is one that is meant to be the emotional backbone of this slice of cinema. As a result, Fiennes is meant to not only kick some bad guy butt in a variety of manners that are both ingenious as well as sneaky, but to also sift the action on display through a variety of emotions. Suffice it to say that Fiennes manages to accomplish this with a style and grace that makes it look simple despite the fact that we know better. Best of all though is the fact that despite doing more than a lot of performers would, Fiennes never looks down on either the role or on those of us who watch this kind of movie. Indeed Fiennes manages to treat this part with the same respect as he would any other part we have been graced to see him play all while making it obvious that this is both a gonzo action film as well as a serious story of a guy teaching himself to step back out and experience the world again. It should also be noted that Fiennes’ resolute awareness of the kind of movie he is a part of is a positive that is definitely shared by the majority of this slice of cinema’s fairly talented ensemble which includes a breezy Gemma Arterton as Oxford’s dry and witty maid/governess Polly, the criminally underrated Djimon Hounsou who is a joy as Orlando and Conrad’s devoted butler Shola, a triple dose of Tom Hollander who is clearly having a ball in his respective roles of King George, Kaiser Wilhelm, and Tsar Nicholas respectfully, Matthew Goode in a small yet pivotal role as a soldier in the British Army, the always enjoyable Charles Dance in an authority role that Dance plays so well, and even a wonderful degree of campy sinisterness provided by Daniel Brühl as one of this slice of cinema’s League of Villainy Eric Hanussen. Out of everyone though, perhaps the performance that I find myself really admiring the most (besides the one given by Fiennes) is the one given by Rhys Ifans in the role of Rasputin. Indeed, he may look a lot like Rasputin did in real life, but this is less an accurate historical portrayal of the infamous man and more a gloriously exaggerated portrayal right down to being willing to incorporate dancing into his fighting technique. Suffice it to say that it is very much a looney tune kind of performance and Ifans is having an absolute blast in the role. Indeed if there is a performance that seems a bit out of place it would have to be the one given by Harris Dickinson in the role of Orlando’s son Conrad. This is a bit problematic since that character is meant to be the well-intentioned heart of the film, but instead Dickinson plays him less as that and more like a wee bit of a bratty kid who’s not happy that his dad isn’t letting him do the thing that everyone else is doing. Suffice it to say that even with that outlier in the cast there is no denying that the acting on display is fairly well done.

All in all is The King’s Man a perfect slice of cinema by any stretch of the imagination? Oh absolutely not. Not even close. Points for effort though. At the same time though is this a terrible slice of cinema? Again absolutely not. Rather, if anything I would just say that this one is merely….different than its predecessors in a few ways that you might not be expecting, but are (at least in the eyes of this reviewer) very much appreciated in order to keep things in the franchise from going stale. Sure the runtime is too long, sure you might not learn as much about the titular organization got its start, and sure a lot of the characters in this are quite one-note without much else in the way of vivid characterization to help distinguish them from each other to name but a few quibbles to be had with this slice of cinema. At the same time though, the work behind the camera is still very well done and the clearly talented group of players in front of the camera with particular regard to Ralph Fiennes, Djimon Hounsou, Gemma Arterton, Daniel Bruhl, and a delightfully over the top effort from Rhys Ifans all manage to do what they can to help bring some vibrant life to this material when they are given the chance to do so. Suffice it to say that if you go into this expecting more of the same as you got from the first Kingsman as well as The Golden Circle from 2014 and 2017 respectively in the form of a kinetic and lively action first, espionage-second fest then I am sorry to tell you this, but don’t be surprised if you walk away just a tad bit disappointed because that isn’t what this slice of cinema is aspiring to be. On the other hand, if you go into this with the expectation that you are going to get a slice of cinema that is helmer Matthew Vaughn’s World War I-set throwback to such films from years gone by as the aforementioned Where Eagles Dare from 1968 then you might find a wee bit more to enjoy here as I did dear reader. Either way, no The King’s Man “2021” is by no means even remotely as bad as the critics’ score of 41% on Rotten Tomatoes may seem to suggest, but all the same just make sure to know what kind of movie you are getting before going in. Make of that dear reader what thou will. On a scale of 1-5 I give The King’s Man “2021” a solid 3.5 out of 5.