Highly entertaining! This film can be read as a commentary on the necessities and atrocities of war and the emotional cost of freedom. After the disappointing sequel to the outstanding Kingsman: the Secret Service, I was unsure what to expect from this prequel-sequel. So often, prequels simply do not capture the magic of the original. While the original is still the best in this franchise, this prequel taking us back to the origins of the secret agency operating at the most extreme discretion, will keep you engaged as it parallels world history leading up to World War I. The movie is well-paced and structured, and will keep your eyes and ears glued to the screen for the duration of the movie that surprisingly exceeds two hours; you will not feel like you’ve sat there for over two hours. Teaching World Cinema, I spend a lot of time each semester discussing the historical events that helped to shape the content therein and direction of cinema, so I was particularly interested in how closely this film would follow the Russian Revolution and the preamble to the Third Reich in Germany. Even though this film is not intended to recreate all the actual events that plunged the Western world into World War I, there are quite a number of nods and references to major turning points in the revolutions and wars. Most notably in this film, is the subplot of Rasputin and the Romanov family. Ralph Fiennes’ role as the Duke of Oxford (founder of Kingsman) finds a nice balance between serious and campy. Tonally, the original still strikes the best balance, but this one is certainly aiming for that balance between serious espionage movie and camp; perhaps the landing is a little bumpy, but never does it detract away from the experience. If you enjoy spy movies that are exciting and take place within real world history, then you will undoubtedly enjoy this film!
One man must race against time to stop history’s worst tyrants and criminal masterminds as they get together to plot a war that could wipe out millions of people and destroy humanity.
Decades prior to the events of the original, Kingsman was formed, but only after the Western world was plunged into World War I, inclusive of the Russian Revolution and preamble to the Third Reich. While we know from history that there wasn’t an organization of villains who’s goal was to overthrow democracy and monarchy in exchange for socialism and totalitarianism, the film does a good job of applying some fiction to the real historical events. In terms of history, the months leading up to the Russian Revolution provide the bulk of the historic context. Yes, that means the infamous Rasputin plays a major role in the film. And the film plays it close to history, because unlike the Rasputin we get in Anastasia, this one isn’t a sorcerer; however, it does hint at him possessing some dark magic (but that mythos is grounded in reality). The real life Rasputin was a dark priest, alchemist, healer, and advisor to Tsar Nicholas Romanov II, the last emperor of Russia. One prominent historical theory suggests that the British Secret Service was involved in Rasputin’s assassination, and this film leans into that theory in order to motivate the founding of Kingsman. For a while, I thought that the legend of Anastasia (which lasted about 90 years) was going to factor into this movie, which would give rise to a plot point in its sequel. But sadly, I don’t think we will be searching for Anastasia in the next movie (if there is one, which there probably will be).
What I appreciate most about this film is the commentary on the atrocities and necessities of war and the emotional cost of victory. This isn’t really a spoiler because it happens in the first few minutes of the film, but we open on the death of the Duke of Oxford’s (Fiennes) wife, and it’s this death that radically alters his opinions on getting involved in war and fighting for your country. Moreover, his radical ideological shift was exhibited through his rearing of his son, whom he (over)protected and kept from entering into military service. Understandably, the Duke did not want to lose his son on the war front, in the same way he lost his wife and son’s mother. Without spoiling the plot, the Duke goes through a redemption arc and through various conflict, his pacifist ideology is challenged, and he must decide what he’s going to do about it, as the world is crumbling around him. Sometimes, war is necessary to fight for what is right. But even the most justified wars come as a cost. That cost may be emotional, psychological, or relational; yet, the cost is worth it because it may have saved tens of thousands or even millions of lives in the long run. The King’s Man challenges our views on war, by placing us in the family units and in the trenches along No Man’s Land (and no, Wonder Woman does not show up). Some things in life are truly worth fighting for, and fights are not always going to be debates on a stage. Furthermore, if you’re a parent, perhaps you will be challenged to be the kind of man or women your child would be.
You’ll want to add The King’s Man to your list of movies to watch in cinemas over Christmas! You get a little of everything: some classic espionage, a World War I film, and commentary that is applicable to our own lives.
Ryan teaches American and World Cinema at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! If you’re ever in Tampa or Orlando, feel free to catch a movie with him.
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