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Film Review – The King’s Man (2021)

Another day, another sequel, another franchise. With Spider-Man: No Way Home breaking all sorts of records across most of the world, there’s a strange good/bad quality to it. The good: after a year of turmoil across the world, cinemas have been hit and the much needed income into the industry is most welcome. The bad: it’s another blow to the industry in that generally audiences seem to have no problem coming out in their droves to something that is familiar yet stay at home for almost everything else.

That’s no disrespect to Matthew Vaughn’s prequel itself but its mere existence is another small blow to the bigger picture facing the cinema world right now. Indeed, the first two films were mightily – and somewhat surprisingly – successful, paving the way for the series to expand and go back on itself for a spot of historic skewing. Much like how Robert Zemeckis had his heart set on making his western in Back to the Future: Part III, the same could be argued for Vaughn with his own third part, the one he REALLY wanted to make if he had to pick and you can see why: mixing his frantic action style with a World War I narrative seems like a match made in heaven but despite his best intentions and some flashes of real brilliance, The King’s Man, sadly, underwhelms.

You can see what Vaughn was shooting for: keeping all the cheeky zip to proceedings that made the first two films go down so well with audiences, he tries to mould this one into the more serious category, hedging his bets on a touching war story that tackles its after effects and impact on relationships, particularly between fathers and sons, but the so jarring are the changes of pace here that it ends up doing neither very well on the whole. Those who want the fast stuff will no doubt be pleased by the muscular fight sequences involving “sword cam”, wooden lifts and Bakewell Tarts that keep the cogs turning but much of them have a limp, lifeless feel to them so they underwhelm more than they enthral.

There’s some excellent moments of action and frivolity – mostly from a terrifically avuncular Rhys Ifans, just the right side of hammy – as well as those more sombre moments in the trenches, led by Harris Dickinson‘s splendid turn and Fiennes’ usual class act, that work well separately but as a whole, it’s like a jigsaw smashed together even if the pieces don’t fit. Indeed, when the inevitable twists and turns come, you’ll be most perplexed and flabbergasted by what unfolds.

In terms of threequel/third instalments, The King’s Man actually fits quite snugly: trying to break free from what has gone before in some respects, it acts as both prequel/sequel/soft reboot even but despite shooting high, falls flat. It’s entertaining enough if you’re into this type of thing but in a film world where so much is going on right now, there’s no doubt more worthwhile tickets to be bought. Unless you like Bakewell Tarts, of course. Then you might be easily swayed.

★★


Action, Thriller | 2021 | 20th Century Studios | 15 | Dir: Matthew Vaughn | Ralph Fiennes, Gemma Arterton, Rhys Ifans, Harris Dickinson, Matthew Goode, Daniel Brühl, Djimon Hounsou, Tom Hollander