In the prequel to the Kingsman film series, Orlando Oxford (Ralph Fiennes) forms the Kingsman agency during World War I to stop a huge conspiracy to wipe out millions.
In this large, historically-based prequel, Matthew Vaughn’s unique eye for action and wit remain sharp but he ditches the parodical energy of the last two films for a tonal mess of a WWI action film that takes itself too seriously. Obviously, war is not a joke but the movie already makes fun of the figures behind WWI with its caricatures of Rasputin, Kaiser Wilhelm, King George and Tsar Nicholas (the latter three all being played by the same actor, to make things sillier). So with this Inglorious Basterds-like irreverence the movie plays around with, why not make the entire movie a comedy like the last two movies? The script tries way too hard to teach a somber lesson about violence, but the problem is the movie thrives on the over-the-top carnage seen on screen. The movie is a tonal mess, with the film trying to be both a cartoonish spy comedy and attempting to deconstruct war and lessons around what violence is, as well as having serious, intense scenes on the Western Front that feel like something out of a completely different movie. To make matters worse, the characters all feel flat and the supporting roles, like those of Gemma Arteron and Djimon Honsou, have no agency of their own. Ralph Fiennes is the only actor who gets a fully realized character and he can obviously do no wrong as a performer.
The action and music shine here — as soon as the action begins, the energy kicks in, with thrilling choreography, score (the Kingsman theme that recurs throughout the franchise can never get old), and set pieces. The action and humor play off each other well in these sequences, and Vaughn is an expert at crafting action scenes that grab your attention but are still unapologetically witty and crazy. If I were ever to watch this movie again, though, I would skip all the boring drama and go straight to the awesome action scenes. Instead of embracing the wild and sharp fun the action brings the film, it’s brought done by serious attempts to be a WWI drama, Unfortunately, in the more serious scenes, it feels detached from its audience, and creates a tonally confused movie that can’t decide what it wants to be. The original Kingsman film spoofed James Bond-like spy films while being a terrific example of one. This one missed an opportunity to lean completely into satirizing the politics of war while having an actually fun and wondrous action adventure, but it lacks the unapologetic confidence, energy, adventurousness and irreverence of the last two.