A blessing in disguise to see that the coronavirus pandemic had delayed The King’s Man from ever releasing properly. It was a sign of just how poor the quality of this latest Matthew Vaughn-directed piece was. It was not dumped online, so the faith producers had in this one to do well at the cinemas was either a misguided shakedown or a bit of tough love to throw at audiences just returning to the big screen. Either way, the dwindling quality of the Kingsman franchise has the enviable consistency that makes it simple to chart. The newer the release, the worse it is. That much can be said for the lifeless but mildly entertaining romps to be had with The King’s Man, a feature that, like the predecessors, relies on the big cast and the bigger events they find themselves thrown into.
Hence why Ralph Fiennes, Rhys Ifans and Stanley Tucci all propel themselves towards this sinking vessel. Tucci, naturally, is cast because bald men that look like Mark Strong are in high demand. Bald men with glasses are interchangeable. It feels like a low-brow joke that was passed around and around at the time of Kingsman: The Secret Service was released. It probably was. There is not much else to base The King’s Man’s sense of humour on, unfortunately. Charles Dance and the typecast, Brit-clad stars make little sense and offer even less. They are used as the caricatures they should so intimately fall back on, but the likes of Gemma Arterton and Matthew Goode are utilised relatively poorly throughout a film that feels staged and rarely makes use of the artificial feeling or the locations it looks to replicate.
Djimon Hounsou is relatively resourceful in these early action sequences but the severity of grief that propels these characters forward is of little impact. The King’s Man features Orlando Oxford (Fiennes) in an inevitable race against the clock to save lives and his country. Its period piece stylings feel relatively on the money, but there is little else to spare when it comes to the quality that matters. Writing that is broadly irreverent for the necessary moments, relying all too much on sombre music and slow-motion instead of actual acts of courage or character depth. There are only so many moments that can be upholstered by musical cues and a teary-eyed Fiennes consoling his son as Vaughn pans onto the label of a jacket covering a dead wife.
It all feels a bit too on the nose to work as anything more than a feature trying to capitalise on the throes of a world at war. Returning to a variety of locations featured in the first two films will fill little in the hearts of those that are now seeing Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Daniel Brühl lining the supporting cast. Not even Tom Hollander can offer much riposte here as King George, Kaiser Wilhelm and Tsar Nicholas all in one. As it turns out, figuring out how the titular secret service got started is of no interest at all, unless the placid and misconstrued action sequences and Arterton’s moments of poor working-class caricature are of intense fascination.