The King’s Man

By Joanna Langfield

This origins story is a little bit schizophrenic, and a little bit fun.

Taking us back to the early 1900s, Ralph Fiennes stars as a family man of privilege, trying to serve his King while maintaining his own pacifist leanings.  Yet, as he becomes a Where’s Waldo like figure, seemingly continuously in the hot seat for some world turning events, Orlando realizes he can and should offer more than benevolent care. And so off he and his son go, showing up at royal tables, enlisting some super spies of their own, even taking on the arch enemy of Rasputin.

The clever, winking enjoyment we had with Colin Firth and Taron Edgerton (who, we now see come along later in the Kingsmen oeuvre) is almost never on the very fancy table here. At times, it feels as if the man behind the series, Matthew Vaughn, was really aching to deliver a full out World War I movie. And, for a good chunk of this one, he does. But, whether out of a sense of loyalty, or some quid pro quo deal, he couches his strongest stuff with a few lighter scenes, taking us inside the London tailor shop, even throwing in an “aha” moment, where we are in the room where the first meeting of the Kingsmen happened.

But what works best are the action scenes, both the serious and not so serious ones. Fiennes is zesty with a sword, taking on Rhys Ifans’s wackily entertaining Rasputin. And it’s nice to see Djimon Hounsou, Charles Dance, Gemma Arerton and Daniel Bruhl along for the ride, however briefly. But there’s no doubt the heart and soul are in the surprisingly strong, quite effecting battle stagings. Harris Dickinson, as the son who rejects safety, leads us through some breathtaking turns that, even if they feel out of place, surely leave quite an impact.