Review – Manners Maketh Movie Prequel (“The King’s Man”)

What happens when a franchise doesn’t know where to go after its sequel? Why go full reverse and do a backstory, of course! In case you ever wanted to know all about the ultra super-secret society, The Kingsman, and their history, well, here ya go!

Every story needs a hero and this one’s name is Duke Orlando Oxford (Ralph Fiennes), a British aristocrat and single father to his anxious 18-year-old son, Conrad (Harris Dickinson). Just like the dad in The Patriot, Orlando is over-protective of his son, keeping a promise to his late wife that he’ll never see war or death again. But! Sinister forces are afoot in the secret high mountains of Kashmir! The Legion of Doom. . . er, I mean, SPECTRE. . . sorry, I mean, a group of baddies, led by the faceless Shepherd (Matthew Goode), is the grand puppet master in a scheme to bring about WWI and England’s demise. His first plan is to upset the balance of power of the three major players in charge: King George of England, Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany, and Tsar Nicholas of Russia (all played by Tom Hollander).

Step one: have his minion, the mad monk Rasputin (Rhys Ifans), infiltrate the Russian family. Time to call out the good guys! Orlando and his secret agents, code-breaker and sharp-shooter Polly Wilkins (Gemma Arterton) and bad-ass soldier, Shola (Djimon Hounsou), along with Conrad on his first mission, go to stop the crazy bearded Rasputin. But after a skirmish at the Russian palace, the movie switches gears and we now see Conrad’s story, his gung-ho intention to join in WWI, his fights with his dad who wants him out, and the repercussions of Conrad’s decisions.

Then we’re back on track to the original storyline; the Shepherd trying to unhinge the axis by using more minions like Mata Hari (Valerie Pachner) and Erik Jan Hanussen (Daniel Bruhl), this time by blackmailing the POTUS (Ian Kelly), Woodrow Wilson. This leads Orlando and his gang to the exciting finale and the ultimate formation of the Kingsman secret service. I’ll say this, co-writer and director Matthew Vaughn has redeemed himself from his last film, Kingsman: The Golden Circle, which was a jumbled mess. Writing this, along with Karl Gajdusek(The November Man, Oblivion), Vaughn is back in form in what seems two very different movies that clash against each other in the middle.

First, you have the crazy, intricately structured, and wickedly filmed fight choreography that is the signature Kingsman movie, dealing with world espionage, secrets, lies, and betrayals. Then it stops and becomes a WWI movie that looks and feels like a homage to Sam Mendes’ 1917 or Gallipoli with all its brutality and action. Then it goes back to the regular plot as if it took some kind of detour. Yes, it takes you right out of the film, but the sidebar is SO good, you don’t care. The writing this time around is much better, grittier, and full of substance, instead of all that fluff & nonsense like the last film. Okay, so it has huge plot holes, but I still didn’t care. I enjoyed the characters and the interwoven stories, and you can’t argue with Vaughn’s wildly playful direction, especially during the fight scenes!

Another wonderful aspect about this threequel is the acting. Ralph Fiennes gives a bravura performance as Lord Oxford, father first and spy second. His range is simply marvelous in this movie, as is his two partners, Hounsou & Arterton. All three make a formidable team together and their chemistry is terrific. I’d really like to see a spin-off with these three again! Dickinson is excellent as the son, so painfully wanting to please his father, but my favorite had to be Ifans as Rasputin. For the small amount of time he’s on-screen, he steals the movie with his over-the-top performance. And let’s not forget Hollander as all three rulers! Kudos to him! Thanks, Matthew Vaughn, ya done good!!    

**Now showing only in theaters

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003)

Comic book and graphic novelist Alan Moore should just give up. Apparently, he HATES every movie that’s based on his work and this is no exception (there were lawsuits), plus the fact the director, Stephen Norrington, famously clashed with megastar Sean Connery. Yeah, this film was doomed from day one.

Mind you, the story and idea were pretty good and I’ll admit I rather enjoyed it. It’s 1899 and a bunch of terrorists, led by the infamous Fantom, aka Professor Moriarty (Richard Roxburgh), steals a bunch of valuable blueprints and kidnaps some scientists. To stop this guy, the British Empire recruits 007. . . sorry, I mean, adventurer and hunter Allan Quartermain (Connery). At a secret meeting with his fellow recruits, the Fantom shows up and tries to kill them all, which just pisses them off. This newly formed “League” consists of some of the weirdest people ever and later picks more up.

Besides Quartermain, there’s Captain Nemo (Naseeruddin Shah) of the Nautilus submarine, vampiress Mina Harker (Peta Wilson), invisible man Rodney Skinner (Tony Curran), bad boy immortal Dorian Gray (Stuart Townsend), U.S. special agent Tom Sawyer (Shane West), and the shape-shifting Dr. Jekyll (Jason Flemyng), who can turn into a very large CGI Mr. Hyde. With this rag-tag crew of good guys aboard the Nautilus, they set sail for Venice where they run into a bunch of trouble and get ambushed by the Fantom, who wants to destroy most of the city. Cue the explosions. The Nautilus is also bombed, but was it an inside job? Could there be a mole in the group?

With the submarine damaged, it limps to Mongolia, the site of the Fantom’s hidden fortress where the gang plans on blowing up his warehouse. BUT! Skinner, thought to be the mole in the group, reveals who the real bad guy is, and he’s quickly taken out by Mina. There are fights, desperate acts of courage, more fights, shoot-outs, and people generally behaving badly. In the end, the good guys win, but at a price that made Connery very happy as he didn’t have to return for any sequels, should there be any. Now, don’t get me wrong, this movie DID make money, just behind Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl upon opening. But critically, it bombed.

Why did it bomb? Well, first let’s start with the script by James Dale Robinson, whose main job is as a comic book writer. He’d written only TWO screenplays in his lifetime, this movie, and 1995’s forgettable Cyber Bandits. Yeah. That’s it. You don’t give a comic book to be adapted, whose author is the painfully OCD Alan Moore, to a rookie screenwriter! Big mistake!! Then you have Norrington, who only directed FOUR movies ever, and only one of them you’ve heard of: Blade. WTH!!?? Hey, did you want this movie to fail? A nobody screenwriter with an unproven director at the helm. Somebody at 20th Century Fox films was asleep the day they gave out assignments.

Connery’s hatred for his role was well-publicized, having turned down the part of Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings mega-franchise to do this! Connery couldn’t stand novice Norrington, very often not taking his direction, and when Norrington didn’t attend the cast wrap party, people asked where he was. Connery answered, “Check the local asylum.” Yikes!    

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