To my shame, we completely missed this in cinemas, despite how big a fan Alison is. Honestly, I think that ended up being okay. It's not that The King's Man is a bad film, but it really highlights have much the original two movies were carried by Taron Egerton, both as an actor and as a character. Where the Kingsman franchise really excels is in pointing out the hypocrisies of classism and the inequalities inherent in the world, all whilst maintaining a distinctly over-the-top, campy atmosphere.
On the contrary, The King's Man is firmly focused on the upper class. Yes, several of the main characters are deliberately played as distinctly working-class servants, and they make a big point about their network of informers all being of a similar status, but here they are used as tools for the upper class to advance their own means. Yes, they're shown as deeply competent and easily the equals of their wealthier colleagues, but the story still casts them into the shadows. Which is a shame, because Gemma Arterton and Djimon Hounsou are both hugely entertaining in their roles.
Instead, the focus is on the morality of war and nationalism, which I guess are at least pertinent discussions for our current political atmosphere. It's not a bad message either, and I felt that Ralph Fiennes did a fantastic job in the lead role. I was equally shocked and impressed that they chose to kill his son, Conrad, particularly after his phenomenal escape sequence from No Mans Land. In fact, the whole Conrad plot, and the way the movie drove home how utterly moronic the Great War was, and how abhorrent the notion of honourably dying for one's country is, was great. Conrad himself could have used a touch more depth, but his journey of revelation and realisation that his father was right is kind of the point, so that's understandable. It's a surprisingly bleak take and something I wish more war movies really doubled down on.
Of course, this is still a Kingsman film, so that whole sombre plotline is set against a diabolical, comic-book plot about world domination, secret societies, and shadowy figures. It's all a bit by the numbers, and they make a big thing about keeping the leader's face secret for this big reveal that, oh no!, it was that adviser all along! Unfortunately, you don't really care all that much, and outside of Rhys Ifans' fun take on Rasputin and one clever line from Lenin balancing "left and right", I just wasn't all that bothered by the villainous cabal. They're a good excuse for some fun action sequences and I actually thought they wove their nefarious schemes in actual world history surprisingly coherently, but pinning it all on Scots Nationalism versus British Imperialism was just a weak payoff. I mean, it works, but meh.
Also, what was that lair all about? I know Kingsman villains tend to have ridiculous hiding places, but a plateau where a specific species of goat lives? It made for a great parachute scene (oh lord, my vertigo did not approve; ice and heights *shudder*) but it was almost too unbelievable and kept taking me out of the plot.
The result is an entertaining film that yo-yos a bit too heavily in terms of message. I think there's a great movie in here dissecting the abhorrence of war, the utter absurdity over the loss of life, and the inanities of the whole "dulce et decorum est pro patria more; it is sweet and proper to die for your country" concept. That film would focus solely on the relationship between the Duke of Oxford and his son; it would be dark, emotional and poignant. Then there is a Kingsman movie, which is all absurd action and espionage, where the servants and workers of the world unite to actually get the job done. Mashing the two together doesn't quite work, even if affords them the chance for some pretty excellent lines of dialogue. It's not bad, it's just a little confused.