Witless prequel fails to convince

Will Ferris
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The King’s Man (15, 131 Minutes)

What better way to start off a post-christmas cinema trip than an irate father verbally abusing staff because he’s not allowed to bring his eight year old son into a 15 rated film?

When you consider the Kingsman films have consisted of exploding heads, church massacres and Taron Egerton inserting a tracking device in Poppy Delevigne’s lady area, you do wonder whether that kid’s dad would be better suited taking it up with the BBFC.

Anyway, onto the film. The King’s Man is a prequel to Matthew Vaughn’s 2014 spy flick exploring the origins of the hidden intelligence agency that seems to do whatever the hell they want.

This time we move from a protagonist you’d expect to meet on Albert Square to Orlando, Duke of Oxford (Ralph Fiennes).

This is no Shakespearean hero. He’s a sworn pacifist who is determined to keep his rebellious son, Conrad (Harris Dickinson), from conscripting into the army. War has broken out across Europe and a group of the biggest “villains” are moving in the shadows to influence the First World War.

These villains consist of Grigori Rasputin (Rhys Ifans), Erik Jan Hanussen (Daniel Bruhl), Vladimir Lenin – all in all, was he really a bad guy? – and, ‘cor, Mata Hari (Valerie Pachner). Orlando sets out to stop this mysterious group and convince America to intervene and end the war before his son dies.

As far as origin stories go, this one grinds my gears. The premise is strong, with the potential for a lot of wit if the script dares to take risks.

Unfortunately, it feels as though Vaughn has been held back from going all out, as he so usually does, and the film suffers for it.

Perhaps it’s the lack of the brilliant Jane Goldman’s writing, or just a director whose heart wasn’t really in it.

Oddly enough, for such a long film it feels as if we only get to see half of it. Somewhere out there, a good film has been dropped on the proverbial cutting room floor.

There is, however, a fantastic scene in the trenches reminiscent of Sam Mendes’ 1917. Bit of a copycat, but stunningly crafted nonetheless. And Rhys Ifans is glorious as the disgusting Raspuin.

But please, if you’re going to cast the likes of Gemma Arterton and Tom Hollander, don’t waste them.

RATING: 4/10