The most absurd adventure yet

The king’s man, Matthew Vaughn’s prequel to his Kingsman films, is even more absurd than its predecessors. Sometimes it feels like you’re watching a parody of a period spy movie.

It’s not just how Rhys Ifans, as Rasputin, goes dancing in the middle of a fight to the death with a British spy or wildly vomits his Bakewell pie.

Nor is it Mata Hari’s ridiculous Benny Hill-style strip-tease routine, when she seduces hapless President Woodrow Wilson, somehow delaying the end of WWI. It is not even the intervention of various goats in a bad mood and which give each other head buttings. It’s the ironic tone of the whole movie.

Vaughn deals with nothing less than how Europe made its way into war and revolution at the turn of the 20th century.

Lenin makes a late appearance. The same is true of a certain Austrian corporal who apparently has not yet learned how to trim his mustache. A dark Scottish master-villain, who looks and sounds like he’s the cousin of Ernest Blofeld of the Gorbals, orchestrates the chaos.

In the alternate universe created by the director and his co-writer Karl Gajdusek, the British father and son spy team, Orlando, Duke of Oxford (Ralph Fiennes) and Conrad Oxford (Harris Dickinson), almost stopped the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in the anarchist Gavrilo Princip. It’s not their fault that the Archduke’s driver has such a desperate sense of direction.

Rhys Ifans as Rasputin (wearing) Alexander Shefler as Tsaravich Alexei, Tom Hollander as Tsar Nicholas (left) and Branka Katic as Tsarina Alix (right) in The King’s Man ( Photo: 20th Century Studios)

It’s one of those movies that, had it been made a generation ago, surely would have played Peter Sellers in multiple roles. Vaughn can’t give us any vendors but instead offers Tom Holland as King George, Kaiser Wilhelm, and Tsar Nicholas. They are all grandchildren of Queen Victoria and all still bear the scars of their childhood years.

The joke can’t help but seem incongruous given the subject matter. Vaughn begins the film in a British-run concentration camp during the Boer War. The sequences which take place in the Somme a few years later are even more violent.

The character of Fiennes is ostensibly pacifist but he is also reactionary. He enjoys reciting the poetry of Wilfred Owen and is desperate to protect his son. That doesn’t stop him from killing people or doing his best to preserve the good old British Empire.

In his country house similar to Brideshead, he has a servant, Shola (Djimon Hounsou), who is as skilled in combat as he is, and an eerily glamorous nanny / housekeeper, Polly (Gemma Arterton), who is not just a crack shot but an expert cryptographer.

Much of the plot just doesn’t make sense. In the world depicted here, politicians stand ready to sacrifice millions of lives to save themselves from sexual blackmail as trigger-happy British soldiers murder their comrades at the slightest hint of duplicity. Rasputin is malevolence incarnate but he is always ready to help heal the wounds of war of enemies.

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As in the previous one Kingsman films, the main characters remain completely obsessed with their tailor. Orlando often seems much more concerned with preserving appearances than fighting the bestial Hun.

The king’s man is best viewed as an old-fashioned tear-off thread – a modern equivalent of the own adventures of old Richard Hannay and the boy Bulldog Drummond.

There’s nothing wrong with the energy level, but unfortunately the action and comedy get in the way frequently. For a moment Fiennes will be caught in the folds of the primitive parachute. The next day, it will swing on the edge of a cliff. We quickly realize that he’s pretty much indestructible – and that means any dramatic tension evaporates.

At the cinema on December 26

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