Updated: Mar 6
4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / HDR FRAME SHOTS
British aristocrat Orlando, Duke of Oxford (Ralph Fiennes) takes his son Conrad (Harris Dickinson) to the Kingsman Tailor shop for his first fitting.
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“THE KING’S MAN”
4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, Digital copy; 2021; R for sequences of strong, bloody violence; profanity, and some sexual material; Streaming via Amazon Prime Video (4K), Apple (4K), Movies Anywhere (4K), Vudu (4K), YouTube (4K)
Best extra: “The King’s Man: The Great Game Begins,” a six-part making-of documentary
LET’S BE CLEAR – “The King’s Man” directed, produced and co-written by Matthew Vaughn – is a stand-alone prequel to, not a sequel to “The Kingsman: The Secret Service” (2014) and “The Kingsman: The Golden Circle” (2017).
“I wanted to show people where ‘Kingsman’ came from … showing how crazy the world used to be and how crazy it still is,” Vaughn says in “The Great Game Begins.” He wanted to do a period epic combining history, heart and brazen silliness. “I always say, ‘This movie is ‘The Man Who Would be Kingsman.’” He was inspired by John Huston and “The Man Who Would Be King,” starring Michael Caine and Sean Connery. Like the ‘Kingsman’ films, “’The King’s Man’ is espionage … but it’s all period and different,” Vaughn says.
It can be a bit jolting. The story begins in 1902 where British aristocrat Orlando, Duke of Oxford (Ralph Fiennes) visits a South African concentration camp, with his wife and young son during the Second Boer War. They are working for the Red Cross. In a sniper’s attempt to assassinate General Kitchener (Charles Dance), Orlando’s wife is killed. Before she dies, she makes her husband promise to keep their son away from the violence of war.
(1) Shola (Djimon Hounsou) drives the front cart of a Red Cross mission managed by Orlando, Duke of Oxford, and his wife Emily (Alexandra Maria Lara) to a concentration camp in South Africa during the 1902 Second Boer War. (2&3) Orlando spots the camp, where British soldiers stand guard. (4&5) Emily talks to her young son (Alexander Shaw) as Orlando meets with General Kitchener (Charles Dance). (6-8) General Kitchener and Orlando walk toward the front gate as a Boer sniper takes aim toward Kitchener and hits Orlando and Emily.
The audience understands how difficult that will be since, 12 years later, the British Empire will be pulled into what becomes World War I. Orlando’s son Conrad (Harris Dickinson), who witnesses the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and his wife on the streets of Sarajevo, becomes determined to join the army and fight for his country. Orlando does all he can to persuade his son against it. “We are Oxfords, not rogues … Real power is not found running off to war. Real power lies in understanding who it is you’re truly fighting, and how they can be defeated,” he says. Later, as Conrad insists on fighting, Orlando loses his temper, “It’s not fighting, it’s dying!”
By this time, Conrad has been introduced to his father’s fledgling secret service of domestic servants – butlers, footmen, cooks, maids, and so forth – who provide intelligence to aid Great Britain’s war efforts. They are the unseen witnesses to political intrigue, blackmail and war plans. It’s not as if Conrad has no alternatives in helping – and he does. Still, when he comes of age, he defies his father and joins the army, thwarts Orlando’s attempts to keep him safe, and makes his way to the front, and intense battle sequences.
“The King’s Man” seems to be a serious historic film while following fictional characters ... until we’re hit with weird comic moments. In Russia, we meet the infamous Grigori Rasputin in a crazy, knock-out performance by Rhys Ifans (“Spider-Man: No Way Home," 2021). Rasputin, who through chicanery and charisma ruled the court and politics of Tsar Nicolas's Russia, is legendary. So was his death. The giant was poisoned, shot three times, beaten and finally drowned before he died during his assassination. Vaughn – with the talents of the late Brad Allen, who also worked on the director's “Kick-Ass” (2010) and the two “Kingsman” films – go completely mad with it. The sequence becomes a homoerotic burlesque of poisonous cake, knives, martial arts and ballet set to Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. It isn’t only the best action scene of 2021, it will go down as a classic of its kind along with scenes from Vaughn’s “Kick-Ass,” the two “Kingsmen” films – Colin Firth teaching bullies a lesson in the first, and leading a church massacre [did they really show that?] set to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s ‘Freebird’ in the second – as well as those in “X-Men: First Class” (2011) and the underrated “Stardust” (2007) based on Neil Gaiman’s fantasy novel.
(1&2) 12 years later, Orlando and Conrad (Harris Dickinson) fly their biplane onto their estate. (3) We find that Orlando has recruited two of his servants, Polly (Gemma Areton) and Shola into his spy network. (4) From a secret mountain-top headquarters, the mysterious Shepherd gathers his own network of agents, plotting to drive Europe to war. (5&6) Conrad and Orlando ride with Orlando’s friend Archduke Franz Ferdinand (Ron Cook) through Sarajevo and deflect a bombing attempt. Later, the Archduke and his wife Sophie (Barbara Drennan) are assassinated.
The Rasputin assassination left me reeling the first time I saw it; it was so unexpected from the tone of earlier scenes. I enjoyed it more the second time around. However, I loved the stunning action-climax involving aerial stunts, a brawl, shootout, sword duel from the POV of the weapons, and goats. Lots of goats.
Sequels are up in the air at this time. The COVID-19 quarantine and sale of 20th Century Fox to the Disney empire caused a two-year delay in its debut as release date after date came and went. It helped cause a large drop in ticket sales, especially when the film debuted during the highly competitive Christmas weekend. Critics at Rottentomatoes rated the film at 42 percent. The audience gave it an 80 percent rating, which should rise as “The King’s Man” enjoys its home theater release.
“The King’s Man” was digitally captured on 3.5K, 4.5K & 6.5K ARRIRAW cameras (2.39:1 aspect ratio) by cinematographer Ben Davis (“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” 2017; “Guardians of the Galaxy,” 2014). Sadly it was only mastered in 2K, but it still looks great, with painstaking detail shown in period scenes in the country, various city streets, homes and palaces, and costuming by Michele Clapton (“Game of Thrones,” “The Crown”). The script by Vaughn and Karl Gajdusek covers the origins of the organization in the Kingsman Tailor shop on London’s Savile Row, where you can bet every garment from suit, shoes, and accessories, is trés chic!
Makeup for Fiennes, Djimon Hounsou (Shola), Gemma Arterton (Polly) and Dickinson, among others, is natural and magnificent – as is everything else in the HDR10 process. Meanwhile, I give kudos for Ifans’ heavily shadowed and black-garbed Rasputin, and Tom Hollander, who plays the trio of royal cousins, King George, Tsar Nicholas and rabid squirrel Kaiser Wilhelm. Charles Dance looked a perfect Kitchener clone.
Color and detail are also perfect, with excellent contrast and solid blacks. Admittedly, CGI, especially during the Rasputin assassination, stands out in contrast to more realistic footage, but I found it easy to forgive.
We received the 1080p for review, but we upgraded to the 4K disc and everything gets a good uptick in presentation.
(1&2) The three principal monarchs of the age, King George V of England, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany and Tsar Nicholas II of Russia were cousins, playing together during their childhood. British actor Tom Hollander plays all three adult leaders. (3) Rasputin (Rhys Ifans), on the orders of the Shepherd, influences Tsar Nicholas to poison Prince Alexei. The Shepherd plans to end Russia's support of Great Britain in WWI. (4) At a Christmas party in Russia, Rasputin attacks Conrad after battling Shola in a wild sword fight.
A robust Dolby Atmos/TrueHD 7.1 soundtrack delivers clear, crisp sound throughout the room. As others have pointed out, it’s a big improvement over the usual Disney product. Dialogue is clean and always understandable. Effects and music by Dominic Lewis and Matthew Margeson blend together well; there’s no need to keep the remote nearby to dampen sudden loudness. Bass is true, solid and warm throughout. Action sequences make good use of height speakers.
You want extras? “The King’s Man” has extras – lots of them featuring cast and filmmaker interviews, with lots of how-we-did-it explanations and demonstrations. “’The King’s Man’: The Great Game Begins” is nearly 90 minutes long. It includes “A Generation Lost,” “Oxfords and Rogues,” “All the World’s a Stage,” “Instruments of War,” “Fortune Favors the Bold,” and “Long Live the Kingsman.”
“No Man’s Land: Silent Knife Fight Sequence Breakdown” details a dramatic action sequence outside the trenches of WWI, with archival footage and a history lesson from military costume advisor/designer Alex Fordham. “Remembrance and Finding Purpose” explores The Royal British Legion, Help for Heroes, and Great Britain’s Battle Back organizations that support veterans. Matthew Vaugh also describes his purpose in making “The King’s Man.”
“This movie is about war and soldiers, and deep down, this is an anti-war film,” he says. “But it’s not an anti-soldier film.”
— Kay Reynolds
(1) Shepherd recruits Vladimir Lenin (August Diehl) and orders his Bolsheviks to overthrow the Tsar. (2&3) Orlando and Conrad head back to England from Russia. (4) Adviser Erik Jan Hanussen (Daniel Brühl) meets Kaiser Wilhelm II, who is determined to continue his war. (5) Orlando meets with King George V.
(1) Conrad is commissioned into the Grenadier Guards against his father’s wishes. (2-4) Disguising himself with another soldier's identity, Conrad volunteers for a mission into No-Man’s Land to retrieve information from a British agent, under heavy fire from machine guns and bombs.