The King's Man (2021)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 1/3/22
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Cast: Ralph Fiennes, Gemma Arterton, Rhys Ifans, Harris Dickinson, Djimon Hounsou

"We are the first independent intelligence agency. Refined but brutal, civilized but merciless."

Matthew Vaughn's "Kingsman" series gets an origin story, which is a grim and gut-wrenching World War I adventure punctuated with a heavy-handed anti-war sentiment. When Orlando Oxford's (Ralph Fiennes) wife is killed during a humanitarian Red Cross mission to South Africa, he vows to keep his son Conrad (Harris Dickinson) safe from the horrors of war. However, when World War I breaks out, Conrad is all too eager to throw away his life in the service of England. Working behind the scenes, Oxford sets up a network of domestic servants who operate as spies across the globe, and he discovers the real power players behind the war, led by a mysterious figure known as "The Shepherd."

It's a fun and exciting period piece filled with outrageous action scenes and eye-popping visual effects. It's scaled down considerably from the previous film, which works in its favor. "The Golden Circle" (2017) was completely bonkers, and while it was an entertaining ride, it was also mentally exhausting to watch. Ralph Fiennes gives a powerful performance as the world-weary Oxford, which bitterly clashes with Harris Dickinson's stubborn, but naïve youthful idealism. Gemma Arterton and Djimon Hounsou are delightful as Oxford's assistants, and Rhys Ifans gives a deliriously over-the-top portrayal of Grigori Rasputin. It feels as though Matthew Vaughn used Rasputin's assassination as a starting point, and then built the rest of the story around that. It's a great looking film and the music score is bold and heroic, which often reminded me of Alan Silvestri's work on "The Avengers" (2012). I enjoyed it quite a bit, although the pacing stumbles at times and the overwrought sentimentality can be overbearing.