The gleefully violent and impeccably dressed “Kingsman: The Secret Service” arrived on screen in 2015 and was an irreverent gust of fresh air. But the charm of that first movie had worn off by the time its sequel, 2017’s overblown “Kingsman: The Golden Circle,” rolled around, and we’re now presented with its prequel, “The King’s Man,” which is baffling even on a molecular level. How are we here? Why are we here? And did anyone ask for this?
“The King’s Man” is a sensationalized, over-the-top walkthrough of WWI with the elite agency of British super spies as the secret saviors of the day. Somehow this involves a spinning, twirling, ballet dancing Rasputin, a herd of testy goats and a sex tape starring Woodrow Wilson. It’s meant to blow up history but all it does is make you roll your eyes.
The film, rated R for strong violence, is currently showing in wide release.
Ralph Fiennes stars as Orlando Oxford, the founder of the Kingsman agency, a British aristocrat whose ties to and influence on world leaders has the ability to alter history. He’s teaching his son Conrad (Harris Dickinson) the ropes in the days leading up to the first World War, a historic playground that director and co-writer Matthew Vaughn uses to recast the Great War through his own cracked lens.
Vaughn (“Kick-Ass,” “Layer Cake”) is a slick and stylish director and he stages several wild action scenes, including a showdown with Rasputin (Rhys Ifans, rendered unrecognizable under a rat nest beard and caked-on goth eye makeup) set to Tchaikovsky and a sequence with Oxford attempting to parachute from a plane as it dives headfirst toward the ground. These set pieces tonally clash with the film’s more straightforward, dressed down scenes, and “The King’s Man” plays like historical fiction occasionally spiced up with action junkie razzmatazz.
Djimon Hounsou and Gemma Arterton are on board as Oxford’s teammates, fellow architects of the Kingsman universe. But nothing here feels as alive or as rudely fun as the first “Kingsman” movie, which blew up the very conventions “The King’s Man” embraces. Don’t let its handsome tailoring fool you; it’s a mess.