Kingsman: The Secret Service was one of the biggest surprises in a cinema I've had in the last decade. I remember being excited for it but I never expected to fall in love with it as much as I did and the film still holds up every time I rewatch it. I even enjoyed The Golden Circle, it's not perfect and nowhere near as good as the original but I still get a lot of enjoyment out of it. But from the moment The King's Man was announced I just couldn't understand why it was being made. I don't dislike the idea of doing a prequel film but I thought the franchise would be better suited to finishing up the Harry/Eggsy story first before going into spin off and prequel territory. I was hoping this film would surprise me by being a different kind of entry for the franchise but unfortunately it was every bit as pointless as I feared it would be.
I think the thing that stops this film from being bad overall is it's central characters. Ralph Fiennes is great in this film, he is as perfectly cast in this role as Colin Firth was in the 2015 original. He brings all the charm and etiquette you'd expect from this type of character while being completely capable in all the action scenes. I also really liked newcomer Harris Dickinson, he gives a really good performance and has great chemistry with Fiennes. I liked that Vaughn didn't just make him an Eggsy clone, he's a very different character and much more stern and serious and it works surprisingly well. Djimon Hounsou and Gemma Arterton made for really likeable and entertaining side kicks and they actually ended up stealing the movie for large portions. Most of the villains I found to be underwhelming but with the exception of Rhys Ifan who may have ultimately been the best part of the entire experience for me. He was delightfully over the top, capable and threatening in all the fight scenes and hilariously funny, it's only a shame that he wasn't in the film more.
I think The King's Man best finds it's footing in it's 3rd act. It's when all of the masses exposition start to pay off in some way and it's in this part of the film that it truly starts to feel like a proper Kingsman prequel. I started to recognise the tropes I love in those other two films and I have to praise that this did make the film end on a reasonably solid note for me. However a fairly good ending doesn't make up for the nearly 2 hour slog that The King's Man is leading up to that 3rd act. Vaughn spends most of the film trying to compress years of history into a 2 hour runtime and it feels unbelievably messy as a result. While I liked most of the action sequences they are few and far between and I have to say that I found the film boring for the most part. I think Vaughn was a little bit too devoted to real life events and I think he may have benefitted from taking some more creative liberties that better suited the Kingsman universe.
In addition to how poorly paced the film was I also have no idea what Vaughn's ultimate vision for it was. The tone shifts between being a serious war drama and a more over the top spy film constantly, sometimes in the same scene, and these two styles do not mix well. The film spends large portions devoted to the trenches of World War One just to abruptly switch to the goofy, moustache twirling villains plotting their evil plans to take over the world and it just makes those more serious moments feel cheap by comparison. It's hard to feel like I'm watching a Kingsman film when I'm watching the battle sequences and it's hard to feel like I'm watching a war movie in those more Kingsman oriented scenes.
I think there is a potentially good prequel somewhere inside this movie but it's buried underneath messy storytelling and two polar opposite tones that make me confused as too what kind of film I'm supposed to be watching. Thankfully it's central characters lift the film up somewhat and it's not without its entertaining and effective scenes but I just don't think Vaughn had a clear idea for what he wanted to do with this prequel. I think the best thing the franchise could do now is finish up the Harry/Eggsy trilogy and end things on as strong a note as possible.
6.2/10 - C+ (Middling)
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