Suited, booted, and obstructed, THE KING’S MAN is finally on the horizon; time to take a closer look at this much anticipated historical expansion of the series...
“As one of our founding Kingsman once said: this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”
Hold your horses there, Harry, because we are far from the end and far from being done with the beginning of the Kingsman story! Director Tim Burton once said, “Every story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Not necessarily in that order.” Well, nowadays, most continuing cinematic stories live by that ethos, as we see franchises increasingly bulk up their narratives with spin-offs, prequels, sequels, soft reboots and even ‘sidequels’; it’s all very exciting, or confusing - delete as applicable. Anyway, back on point, the fact is that you can never quite be sure when a story is primed to be one that spans multiple films and years. Just look at how Ridley Scott’s Alien has gone on to birth a wild franchise over the years, from synths with a god complex to cloned Ripley and her human-Xennomorph baby. Back when Matthew Vaughn unleashed his terrific adaptation of Dave Gibbons and Mark Millar’s 2012 comic in 2014’s Kingsman: The Secret Service, we never expected a series, let alone one slowly expanding six years on.
“While governments wait for orders, our people take action.”
Upon release, The Secret Service was a fire-cracking surprise, one that took joy in lampooning the conventions of secret agent actioners. With the wit of Moore, the gadgetry of Brosnan, and the action of Craig, all in one joyously OTT package, dressed with good looking spy thrills and profane, violent comedy. The cast was on top form, and Vaughn and Goldman’s wry script was a hoot, although at times controversial. The film’s success not only twisted the toffee noses of some critics but it spawned an even more adrenalised and ridiculous 2017 sequel, The Golden Circle. As a film, it was less well-rounded and accomplished, but it saw Vaughn and co. double down on the big-name stars, bonkers cameos (Elton, anyone?) and even the kind of gags that ruffled feathers the first time around. This sequel also introduced an international extension of its title agency The Kingsman, with their American brothers The Statesman. There are even plans afoot for a future spin-off film focused entirely on The Statesman agency, with Halle Berry, Channing Tatum, and Jeff Bridges all reportedly back on board.
Which brings us rather neatly to where we are now. After The Golden Circle, Vaughn showed he was far from done with this world and with Colin Firth’s Harry Hart and Taron Egerton’s Gary ‘Eggsy’ Unwin’s story. Plans are in place for a third Kingsman sequel, which will supposedly bring Harry and Eggsy’s story to a climax, and this project was initially scheduled to be filmed back to back with another intriguing strand of the Kingsman franchise, The King’s Man. This prequel will focus on the beginnings of the Kingsman organisation and was set for release on November 15th, 2019, before being delayed to a Valentine’s Day slot of February 14th, 2020. That is until coronavirus happened, and now The King’s Man is scheduled to finally raise its umbrella (that’s not a euphemism) in UK cinemas on September 16th. It certainly is ‘a King’s Man for all seasons’, as it’s been scheduled for release in most of them! So, now that the time is finally drawing near for Vaughn’s period-based, action spy comedy thriller, what can we expect?
Set amidst the chaos of the early 1900s, history’s most dangerous tyrants and criminal masterminds gather to create a war that will devastate the world. Meanwhile, one man and his young protégé unite and race against time to stop them, and with it, the origin of the Kingsman agency. The footage we’ve seen has made great use of the escalating terrors that would lead to WWI (as well as some good ol’ Black Sabbath!). More than ever before, it seems that the franchise’s tone is far graver, as it shows the evil that men do and what it requires to fight it. Co-written by Vaughn and Oblivion’s Karl Gajdusek, this film has an early look of Wonder Woman-style thrill to it. The comic book-inspired content morphs with real history, slow-motion action shots amid fierce conflict, and comments on who it is that fights wars and how they start to begin with. It does mark the first Kingsman film not to be co-written with Vaughn’s regular writing cohort Jane Goldman (who have worked together on five - technically six - films). However, previous Kingsman music men Matthew Margeson and Dominic Lewis are back on scoring duties, while cinematographer Ben Davis also returns to a Vaughn picture, making this film his fourth collaboration with the director, after Layer Cake, Stardust, and Kick-Ass.
“Reputation is what people think of you; character is what you are.”
Initially and appropriately operating under the working title ‘The Great Game’, The King’s Man takes us back to the drawing board of its title organisation, as they are born as a result of a horrific world, to fight terror as the first independent intelligence agency. It already bears the trademark Bond-homaging gentleman spy beats and gadgetry, alongside predictable lashings of comedy, training sequences, and action. Still, this prequel really could add even more gravitas to proceedings, as it certainly seems to lean closer to the controlled nature of the first film rather than the rambunctious nature of the second. Much like Vaughn’s X-Men: First Class, this comic-born tale is indebted to actual historical events and hostilities and as such, it comes with a roster of figures both fictitious and factual.
Heading up the cast is Ralph Fiennes as the Duke of Oxford, the seeming leader of the early Kingsman, accompanied by Maleficent: Mistress of Evil’s Harris Dickinson as Conrad. These two are undoubtedly going to be striking up a Harry and Eggsy kind of vibe, with Fiennes’ sophisticated mentor teaching young Dickinson the ropes, as there are a plethora of other notable faces along for the ride. Joining them at the head of the Kingsman table are Gemma Arterton’s (Made in Dagenham) Polly and comic book movie king Djimon Hounsou (Guardians of the Galaxy) as Shola, while Stanley Tucci (The Lovely Bones) is pencilled in to take the mantle of Merlin (a role occupied in the other movies by Mark Strong). Other notable supporting roles are taken by the likes of Matthew Goode (Watchmen) as Tristan, Joel Basman (A Hidden Life) as Gawain, Charles Dance (Godzilla: King of the Monsters) as Arthur, and Alison Steadman in an undisclosed role. While Vaughn will be reuniting with his Kick-Ass star Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who will be playing Lee Unwin, who was approached to play Eggsy in the first flick, which is a further interesting link to the Kingsman we know.
Speaking of links, this is a piece inspired mightily by history and as such, many bygone figures will be appearing onscreen. The most major of which will be played by Pirates of the Caribbean and In The Loop star Tom Hollander, who will be portraying not one, not two, but three people in the film, as he goes full-on Sellers and Guinness playing multiple parts in one movie. Hollander will be portraying George V (a role he has already played previously in 2003’s The Lost Prince) and his first cousins Wilhelm II of Germany and Nicholas II of Russia; those royal bloodlines can be so confusing, can’t they? Additionally, Captain America: Civil War and Rush star Daniel Brühl will be playing Russian prince Felix Yusupov, meaning he may have serious beef with Rhys Ifans (The Amazing Spider-Man) onscreen, as Ifans will be playing Grigori Rasputin. Meanwhile, other real-life figures Gavrilo Princip and Mata Hari will both be portrayed by Robert Aramayo (Nocturnal Animals) and Alexandra Maria Lara (Geostorm), respectively. And, in another reminiscent move of DCEU offering Wonder Woman, this film also features another big-screen take on German General Erich Ludendorff, played in that particular film by Danny Huston but realised here by German actor Kristian Nekrasov.
Some of this casting not only gives you a strong sense of areas this particular plot will venture but it also furthers the franchise tropes of the series, of having big names involved in the secret agent action. Also, as a fun bit of trivia, The King’s Man has a very noticeable Bond presence, as the film features a mighty crop of 007 franchise faces, with current M (Fiennes), Quantum of Solace’s Strawberry Fields (Arterton) and For Your Eyes Only’s Claus (Charles Dance). A situation surely not lost on the director, who has always been open about this series’ affection for the heavy-drinking over-sexed British superspy and his iconic silver screen legacy.
“Armed yes, but ready? We shall see...”
It has been a long journey to screen for this prequel in the Kingsman series, and, with pandemic peril and the like, future planned projects may inevitably be delayed. Still, the success of this widening of the franchise lore will prove vital in its future. After The Golden Circle’s more mixed reception, The King’s Man will look to strengthen the formula and lead nicely onto the continuation and possible finalising of Eggsy and Harry’s story in the as-yet-untitled ‘third’ Kingsman movie. The guns are all-blazing, the action looks appropriately constructed, and the well-mannered (well, mostly) wit ought to be intact, in a film that gives history a spin kick to the noggin. Though, strangely, looking back at this history has made us wonder just how much has changed at all. The King’s Man sees a group form to act against tyrannical powers as governments ponder what they can do. Sounds awfully 2020 to us! And should these older-school King’s men and women draw their swords and come out to fight as planned this September, we may get a friendly reminder that the more things change, the more they stay the same - albeit with added umbrella fencing and parachute jumping.
THE KING’S MAN is expected to hit cinemas on February 12th.
This article was originally published in issue 473, September 2020.