After having been delayed by the global Covid-19 pandemic, the third film in the Kingsman saga was finally freed from purgatory with a cinema release in late December 2021.
The Kingsman origin story proved to be a departure from the previous films in tone with a much more serious and darker story, and poignant messages about colonialism and war.
It was also the last hurrah for renowned fight and stunt coordinator Brad Allan who passed away last August. The question begs; does this Kingsman origin story deserve to be crowned as worthy of the franchise?
British actor Ralph Feinnes, plays Orlando, The Duke of Oxford, a former soldier-turned pacifist who uses his wealth and privilege to fund a super spy network, the forerunner to the Kingsman network.
Helping the Duke in his quest to bring about world peace through gentlemanly espionage are Gemma Arterton as the family Nanny, Polly Watkins, and Djimon Hounsou (“Guardians of the Galaxy”, “Never Back Down”) as the family butler and master-at-arms, Shola.
Harris Dickson is Conrad Oxford, Orlando’s son eager to break the overbearing overprotectiveness of his father, to see the world and sign up to fight in the great war.
British actor Tom Hollander, takes on the acting equivalent of a royal flush playing England’s King George, Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm, and Russia’s Tsar Nicholas II.
Playing manipulative agents of the film’s villain The Shepherd, are Daniel Brühl (“Captain America: Civil War“) as Austrian occultist Erik Jan Hanussen, Valerie Pachner as the seductress spy Mata Hari, and stealing the show with a memorable mix of chills and laughs is welsh actor Rhys Ifans as Grigori Rasputin.
Charles Dance (“The Golden Child”, “Last Action Hero”) plays the Secretary of State for War, Lord Herbert Kitchener
After losing his wife Emily to a Boer sniper’s bullet during a visit to a South African concentration camp, Orlando, Duke of Oxford uses his wealth and privilege to create an intelligence agency to prevent conflict before it happens.
Orlando’s aims are to promote peace but also to make the world safer for his son Conrad who was a young boy when he witnessed his mother’s death.
When a shadowy villain known as ‘The Shepherd’ dispatches agents to infiltrate the highest echelons of world rulers and precipitates the start of World War I, Orlando’s spy network gets to work, with help from Conrad, to end the conflict.
Matthew Vaughn returns to the director’s chair with a script co-written by Karl Gadjusek to helm a largely different film in both tone and narrative.
It offers plenty of entertaining moments with some decidedly dark and gruesome action set against the backdrop of the first World War.
There is a vehement anti-imperialist anti-war sentiment, echoed by Ralph Fiennes’ Orlando Duke of Oxford. This is not a bad thing and in fact it teases you into thinking this is a more serious film than hinted at in all the promotions.
Yet there’s enough fun, lighthearted moments, with colourful visuals reminding us of its comic book source. Like Zack Snyder’s DCEU saga, this is very much filmed like an onscreen graphic novel. So if you’re hoping for a retro take on the deadly ‘Gazelle’ or an early model laser lasso – still makes me chuckle – then you’re in for a surprise.
Setting the Tone
The action itself comes courtesy of a stellar stunt team led by fight coordinator Liang Yang (“Mission Impossible: Fallout“) and supervised by Brad Allan.
It is a mix of no holds barred intensity as well as the comical entertaining antics of the previous films. There’s a short scene that is surely a masterclass in knife fighting between Conrad and Shola featuring a mix of Escrima and Judo techniques – the hallmarks of a ‘reel’ knife fight.
It forms part of the narrative foretelling a later scene, and establishing the relationship between the Young Master and his tutor. There’s some joking around of course, but Shola demonstrates there are deadly consequences to not taking training seriously, just like in last year’s “Dune” in the training scene between another weapons master and Duke in waiting.
Whilst the action content is minimal, the pace and intrigue of the film’s plot makes for captivating storytelling helped by strong performances and stunning visuals. You never lose interest, and along the way there are plenty of ‘Easter Eggs’ to keep fans happy.
The much anticipated fight featuring Shola, Conrad, The Duke, and Polly taking on Russia’s greatest love machine, Rasputin explodes halfway into the film. Here, the film’s comedic aspects really kick in after a long-but-entertaining build up, and in no way does this disappoint!
Rasputin Strictly Come Fighting
Rhys Ifans dazzles as the machiavellian mad monk – and Shepherd operative – mixing genuine chills with pantomime ham. Such was the commanding presence he held in every shot, he practically stole the scene from the film’s stars and would surely face harsh punishment if scene-stealing were a crime.
The choreography incorporating the Russian fighting system Buza, looks more like a dance show, but with more intensity and oh so sharp blades reminding us that this is a fight to the death.
It encompasses everything that makes Kingsman fight action so much fun . The use of Buza, with an intermixing of Russian dancing and some dizzying spinning kicks, has a distinctive Hong Kong action feel – hard-hitting and stylish as hell.
No Holds Barred in No Man’s Land
Kingsman films are known for being somewhat bloodthirsty but are usually more akin to an action comic. Yet the knife fight in the battleground of ‘No Man’s Land’ featuring Conrad leading a rescue mission in dead silence in the pitch black of night is the most gruesome and brutal in the saga.
The fight choreography is less stylized than in any of the series but works effectively, brutally and unrelentingly. It feels almost like a scene from an 80’s horror film, and though not especially terrifying, there’s a distinctly eerie chill to the scene.
The almost silent fight is only disturbed by the occasional sound effects of blunt force body blows and blood-splattering knife slices. This fight is an interesting departure from the film’s tone and that of the saga itself letting the action and setting speak for itself.
Storming The Shepherd’s Lair
The final fight plays out like a James Bond film, there is even a treacherous mountain climb a la “For Your Eyes Only” but given the ‘Kingsman’ touch complete with a cheeky mountain goat.
Everything is thrown at this scene mixing comedy with tense thrills, a melting pot of classic action styles. Hong Kong-style movements blend with classic swashbuckling sabre duels straight out of Richard Fleicher’s classic “The Three Musketeers”.
For the fight action there is less acrobatic action, but plenty of flowing movements elevating moments like a standing duel to an intense fight for survival. All the action and story is a culmination of the film’s heady mix of tone and styles upping the entertainment ante.
Watching this unfold it might feel as if the outcome is predictable, yet given the film’s propensity for shocking twists it does keep you a little on the edge of your seat!
“The King’s Man” is an interesting chapter in the spy saga.
Despite its departure in many respects from the tone and style of the previous films, it still retains much of the entertaining facets of its forerunners; violent over-the-top action with some innovative fight choreography, outlandish maniacal villains, and superspies saving the day, with a quintessentially British feel, complete with those ever stiff upper lip sensibilities.
There’s considerably less action in this third installment with a few choice moments but they stand out as some of the best put to film, and no doubt the fight with Rasputin will be one of the most talked about action scenes for a long time to come.
The strong political message adds depth to the action and pulls no punches in its no-nonsense anti-war themes. Yet there is enough humour, and comical antics in some of the action with a dash of subtle farce to remind us that, at the end of the day this is just supposed to be entertainment afterall
The performances from the stellar line up of heavyweight actors is first rate and features plenty of dramatic turns and comic timing, especially from scene thief Rhys Ifans – lock that man away!
With all this plus some innovative fight choreography overseen by Brad Allan, any Kingsman fans still undecided are urged to give this a watch as there are plenty of familiar traits that makes the saga a fun ride.
- “Our enemies think we are gentlemen, but reputation is what people think of you. Character is what you are.” – Duke of Oxford
- “My flock, this will not be the war of heroes. Nations will slaughter each other, while we get rich. This is going to be fun.” – The Shepherd
- “Why is it that boys are always so messy?” – Polly
- “Time to dance, on your drapes!” – Rasputin
- Director Matthew Vaughn took inspiration for Rasputin’s fighting style from film footage he saw of the Russian fighting system Buza.
- Buza is a folkloric fighting style which, like Capoeira, incorporates dancing into its movements. Similar to Russian and Ukrainian folk dances, Buza includes the use of spinning and sweeping kicks performed to traditional music. There is even the use of traditional Russian medieval weapons.
- Rhys Ifans described his experience working on his fight scene, the training and choreography “So it was a discipline all by itself, which I had no experience of. It was fascinating and really kind of life-affirming actually, getting so healthy – I’d never been that fit. And then to take it from me crawling asthmatically across a gym floor to watching this finished piece in the cinema, I haven’t experienced that kind of arc before. So it was really pleasing.”
- Vaughn originally intended Rasputin’s dance fight to be set to an orchestral version of Boney M.’s “Rasputin” song, in keeping with Kingsmen battles being set to popular music. Instead he chose Russian orchestral composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture” in the fight.
- Ralph Fiennes played John Steed in “The Avengers” (1998), who was also a secret agent in a covert intelligence agency, also dressed well, and fought with a sword concealed in a cane-like umbrella.
- Djimon Honsou who plays Shola is no stranger to martial arts action having played MMA instructor Jean Roqua in “Never Back Down”.
- Honsou trained in Kung-fu and boxing, as well as MMA with light heavyweight champion Eric Paulson.
- The late Brad Allan served as 2nd Unit Director and Supervisory Stunt Coordinator on the film. Working with Allan as fight choreographer was none other than Liang Yang (“Mission Impossible: Fallout”)
- Liang Yiang’s work as a fight choreographer also featured in Marvel’s “Morbius” and “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness”.