‘The King’s Man’ or — The League of Unextraordinary Clichés?
I don’t know why I even bothered watching ‘The King’s Man’ (2021) last night as I couldn’t stand the rest of the Kingsman series whilst director Matthew Vaughn, in my opinion, is a filmmaker capable of only two modes — hollow and crass. So even though the First World War setting had the potential to give the series a refreshing angle it simply allows for Vaughn to desecrate another traumatic period of human history for his own financial gain whilst perpetuating his mistaken belief that he is, in any way, an outré filmmaker.
The film concerns the creation of The Kingman’s intelligence service from the previous movies, something nobody with a functioning cerebral cortex had ever bothered to speculate about to begin with. The backdrop to this is Imperial Britain (for all the “risqué”, hip swaggering Vaughn likes to think he adopts it’s shocking how much of a reactionary hard on he has for the British establishment) during World War 1 and the Russian Revolution.
Now this COULD provide some meaty fodder to hang some fun action off but, instead, Vaughn and his co-writer simply resort to throwing up historical bullet-points in such a rapid fire, empty way that it feels more like ‘Now That’s What I Call The Great War Vol. 1’ than an actual coherent narrative. So we’re introduced to everyone from Lord Kitchener to Kaiser Wilhelm, Archduke Franz Ferdinand and Gravilo Princip, Tsar Nicholas and Rasputin along with the horrors of the trenches, the Boer War and the Russian Revolution but with such tedious and vacuous speed that it would make A. J. P. Taylor vomit his guts up.
Yet what’s most offensive is how little fun and/or excitement there is going on here as rather than dishing up some early 1900’s escapist entertainment along the lines of, say, ‘The Assassination Bureau’ (1969) Vaughn seems to be under the deeply misguided delusion that he’s making ‘All Quiet in the Western Front’ (1930) for frat boys, even to the point of vandalising (desecrating?) the poetry of Wilfred Owen for some unearned gravitas (why is it that whenever I watch a Matthew Vaughn film the word “tasteless” always starts to appear before my eyes like a ghost hovering before the screen?).
Meanwhile the film’s evil villain has a bizarre Glaswegian accent that’s so stereotyped, so exaggerated and so contemptuous of the Scottish voice that I was amazed he wasn’t a creation of BBC Scotland’s comedy department. Not only that but this antagonist’s secret organisation and dastardly plans make absolutely no sense whatsoever as they’ve simply been cack-handedly crow-barred into pre-existing historical events so forcefully it makes a mockery not only of history but of coherent, compelling story-telling as well.
Technically ‘The King’s Man is also an unwatchable and unlistenable mess. The soundtrack is constant, wall to wall musical sludge meaning its unremitting bombast permits zero sonic contrast, nuance, atmosphere or excitement to occur. It’s not a score at all but an irritating distraction that seems to only in place to fill up any and all audio downtime because the filmmakers think if an audience isn’t being sonically hit of the head constantly that they’ll fall asleep. Instead, we’re simply pummelled unconscious.
Then there’s the visuals which reek of ugly artificiality to such a degree I started looking for some clothes pegs for my eye lids. The climax is heavily inspired by the James Bond film ‘For Your Eyes Only’ (1981), a film which has a truly nerve-wracking mountain climbing scene at the end, but ‘The King’s Man’, in attempting the same scene, has rendered everything with such excessive green-screen, CGI and colour grading that it has also rendered out any and all excitement in the process. Nothing is at stake and, not only that, but I wasn’t even too sure what was at stake anyway apart from Vaughn and his production company wanting to make more money.
But it’s the almost total lack of engaging fun that’s ‘The King’s Man’s biggest flaw. Indeed, the only place Vaughn seems to find any form of humour is in the violence and swearing. But, then again, that’s Matthew Vaughn to a tee — a total absence of wit and a slavish adherence to the tasteless and crass.