The King’s Man is a prequel to the Kingsman movies, the first of which was good fun, and the sequel entertaining, but mediocre. Unfortunately, the prequel is terrible. It serves as an origin for the Kingsman organization, and is set in the era of the first World War, in the second decade of the twentieth century. The film fails as a compelling origin story, fails as a historical romance, and worst of all, fails to be fun.
In the first act Ralph “Voldemort” Fiennes, Lord Oxford, coddles his son Conrad while a mysterious Scotsman manipulates world figures to start the war and keep the Russians and the Americans out of it. The pace is glacial, but finally, Oxford and Conrad set of to Russia to stop the evil Rasputen (well played by an unrecognizable Rhys Ifans).
The second act has Conrad joining the army against Oxford’s wishes, retrieving intelligence from a British spy, and being killed by his own men when he gives them the name of the man who he swapped places with to enlist. After moping around for a while, Oxford sets out to foil the enemy’s plot to blackmail the US president. He, his servant Shola (Djimon Hounsou) and nanny Polly (Gemma Arterton) lay siege on their enemy’s mountain fortress, save the day, and, in the denouement, found the Kingsman organization.
The film spends far too much time on the dull relationship between Oxford and Conrad. I might have cared more had Harris Dickinson, who played Conrad, had a tenth of the charisma of Terence Edgerton, and not been killed before the final act. This left Oxford, who was a lame old man until Rasputin cured his limp at the end of the first act (how?) to be the action lead. Fiennes does an adequate job, but there is nothing like Colin Firth’s church scene to let him really shine.
Shola is a serviceable sidekick, but Polly in an insufferable mary sue. She is not only an amazing cook (fair enough), but also a brilliant cryptographer and an incredible marksman. Please. Another very annoying aspect of the film is its attempt to weave the royal families of Europe into one with the ridiculous claim that King George, Kaiser Wilhelm, and Tsar Nicholas were all cousins.
If you want to watch a Kingsman film, just rewatch the first one.