‘The King’s Man’ Review: Hulu’s Demented Spy Prequel Kicks History in the Face

A member of the Film Critic’s Circle, he’s covered technology and culture over the past 15 years from London’s tech scene to Europe’s refugee camps to the Sundance film festival

Ralph Fiennes and Gemma Arterton battle Rasputin in the new Kingsman movie, streaming on Hulu in the US and Disney Plus elsewhere.

You know what history lessons need? More fights. The King’s Man is a loud, lewd and demented romp through the politics and tragedy of the past, a blackly comic and often deranged roller coaster of stylized action spectacle decked out in a range of outrageous mustaches.

Originally released in December up against Spider-Man: No Way Home , The Matrix Resurrections and the omicron variant, The King’s Man struggled at the box office despite being the latest in a series whose previous outings proved unexpected hits. Now it’s streaming services Hulu in the US and Disney Plus in the UK, perhaps it’ll find an audience in the mood for wry humor, stylish fights and generally outrageous action.

The Kingsman flicks follow a suite of suave spies operating out of a discreet tailor’s shop in London, armed with impeccable suits, gadgets that would make James Bond blush and a gleefully irreverent twist on the espionage genre. Michael Caine, Samuel L. Jackson and newcomer Taron Egerton also starred in a flick that was enough of a hit to spawn a sequel, 2017’s The Golden Circle , starring Julianne Moore, Channing Tatum and Elton John.

Now Vaughan brings the formula of black comedy, genre-twisting self-awareness and hyperstylized action sequences to a prequel exploring how the Kingsman agency came into being during the dark days of World War Iparable to the supercharged Sherlock Holmes films directed by Matthew Vaughan’s old mucker Guy Ritchie, it’s like Brideshead Revisited meets John Wick. Trashy and deliberately and provocatively fun, The King’s Man does for spy movies what The Suicide Squad did for superheroes.

This prequel film opens in 1902, in the heat and dust of the Boer War between imperial Britain and South African farmers. Ralph Fiennes plays the pacifist Duke or see web site Earl or Lord of Oxford, disquieted by his fellow aristocratic Brits smugly showing off their new invention: something called a “concentration camp.” This is the first sign The King’s Man has something to say about aristocracy. And it isn’t exactly subtle, delivering a scathing polemic against venal, grasping, power-hungry politicians across the globe. In a bravura piece of casting as scathing satire, the same actor (Tom Hollander) plays Germany’s kaiser, Russia’s czar and Britain’s king, to emphasize how unthinkable global bloodshed sprung from petty family feuding.

One dead wife and 12 years later, Oxford and his fully grown son Conrad (an angelic Harris Dickinson) are dispatched on a sensitive mission to feel out Euro-noble Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Scholars of WWI know how that works out. As the world is plunged into war, father and son set out on a globe-trotting quest to head off a fiendish conspiracy.

The series began as a comic called The Secret Service by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons, before director Matthew V action movie adaptation made Colin Firth an unlikely action hero

Though Kingsman began as a comic, this prequel story was concocted for this film and isn’t directly adapted from any comic. Yet it feels more like an adaptation of a series of comic issues, because it’s divided up into such an episodic structure. That doesn’t do much for the overall cohesiveness of the film, especially when the most memorable threat is dispatched early and the film struggles to fill the gap. But it also rushes along at such a breathless pace, filled with a jittery bombardment of flashbacks and inserts, that you barely have time to notice.