Thursday, December 30, 2021

The King’s Man – counterfactual claptrap and mediocre mythology, a film that feels link two different-sized jackets sewn together

If the first Kingsman film was quirky and full of giggles, the sequel was vulgar (both in terms of tone and product placement). This third instalment, an origin prequel for the spy agency, ditches much of the silliness and the innuendo, but keeps the theme of villains building high-altitude bases.

The King’s Man weaves its mediocre mythology about jolly chaps seeking peace into the assassination of Arch Duke Ferdinand, the rise of Lenin, and US military strategy … while leaving the ultimate cause of the First World War at the feet of a shadowy Scottish skinhead (who feels like he has wandered straight in off the Trainspotting soundstage in a next door studio).

Yes, a goat farmer from north of Hadrian’s Wall who is fed up with English influence is apparently pulling the strings of Rasputin, Mata Hari and more to upset the world order and . The Scottish government should really ban this film from being screened in Scotland, or perhaps make it mandatory viewing to push for another independence referendum!

Gemma Arterton plays Polly – the name is clearly short for ‘polymath’ – an assertive nanny who’s a fine shot with a pistol, can crack secret codes, helps organise a below-stairs worldwide network of informers, and can still find time to whip up a tasty tart in the kitchen and utter 99% of the dialogue given to women in the film. Djimon Hounsou is the valet, Shola, who is diligent in his service and deft in combat, throwing himself at trouble as long as it doesn’t involve flying. The Kingsman trilogy doesn’t really deserve the talents of Arterton and Hounsou.

Polly and Shola work for, and, it turns out, alongside the Duke of Oxford (a nimble Ralph Fiennes, now too old to be Bond, but this is a great audition). The pacifist Duke is overly protective of his young son (Harris Dickinson), though the audience know more about the reason than the lad. Tom Hollander is a good addition to the cast, playing three warring cousins.

Expect bare-chested fighting, brilliant moustaches, overwrought dialogue, a forty-minute wait to uncover the first sniff of a mission, a rather well choreographed dancing fight sequence, lots of licking, a barely disguised traitor, and soaring music (Dominic Lewis and Matthew Margeson) that injects energy into the painfully long action sequences.

It’s vaguely entertaining, and there are some good stunts, but The King’s Man is dripping with stereotypes that even Horrible Histories would choose to avoid. There’s a lot of highfalutin talk about character and reputation, valour, duty and keeping promises, a scene that will take you back to a much better war time film (1917), while colonialism and is juggled alongside just war theory and a muddled sense of whether it can be patriotic to be peace-loving.

There’s a fourth Kingsman film in the works. The writer/director Matthew Vaughn will need to make his mind up whether he’s making comedy or action: the current mix fits poorly, like two different-sized jackets sewn together. Johnny English better deserves another sequel than anything bearing the label of Kingsman.

In the meantime, The King’s Man is playing in most local cinemas.

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