There’s no getting around it: “The King’s Man” is a very, very weird action movie. It’s a movie where I left unsure of the audience it’s made for. It’s a movie that’s all over the place, starting out slow and rough, but steadily builds momentum from some spectacular fight sequences that snowball into an insanely good time.
This is a film I hated at first, then loved, then adored. Director Matthew Vaughn, whom I hold out to be one of the most talented working today, knows his way around action films. Always one to march to the beat of a different drummer, he’s made something wildly memorable with his latest project. It won’t be for everyone because no matter what you expect it to be, it is far, far from it.
Part period piece and part action film, the story blends real historical figures with a fictional prequel story to the two popular “Kingsman” films. Set in the WWI era, it gives the background of the birth of the very first independent intelligence agency that is the basis for the movie franchise. When the world’s worst tyrants devise a plot to wipe out a large chunk of the human race, the pacifist Duke of Oxford named Orlando (Ralph Fiennes) and his son Conrad (Harris Dickinson) must assemble their own team (Djimon Hounsou, Gemma Arterton) to stop them.
The film has a strong anti-war message that plays out beautifully, terrific performances from the leads, and enough intrigue to spark a mild interest in the narrative, but the first 30 minutes are not good. I struggled to make it through the early part of this film. There’s a clear turning point when the throttle is rammed into the forward position, taking the film from awful to awesome: when Conrad meets Rasputin (Rhys Ifans).
Ifans’ eccentric performance is sure to be talked about and destined to be forever memorable, but the sword fight set to Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture is the chef’s kiss of action scenes. I get giddy just thinking about it, and it’s so crazy and so well done that it’ll thankfully make anyone forget the dreadful half hour that preceded it. When Rasputin began twirling and clashing with Conrad, I was won over and never looked back.
As is standard with films from Vaughn, the fight choreography is magnificent throughout, with show-stopping action sequences that are imaginative and inspired. From battlefield trenches to the open cockpit of a propeller plane, the film hits zero wrong notes, action-wise. The bad guys are terrific (Rasputin is a first-class screen villain), and the skill at which Vaughn can direct a fight scene is largely unmatched.
The plot isn’t too complex, but the characters are compelling, making it easy to become invested in the story. The set-up may be sluggish, but what follows is not.
If you decide to watch “The King’s Man” (and I recommend that you do), don’t give up too quickly and fail to stick with it through the early missteps. I promise you’ll be rewarded with one of the best (and most bizarre) action scenes of the year.