(director/writer: Matthew Vaughn; screenwriters: Karl Gajdusek/based on the comic book “The Secret Service” by Mark Millar & Dave Gibbons; cinematographer: Ben Davis; editors: Rob Hall/ Jason Ballantine; music: Dominic Lewis/ Matthew Margeson; cast: Ralph  Fiennes (Orlando Oxford), Gemma Arterton (Polly), Rhys Ifans (Grigoro Rasputin), Harris Dickinson (Conrad Oxford), Djimon Hounsou (Shola), Matthew Goode (Morton), Tom Hollander (King George, Kaiser Wilhelm and Tsar Nicolas), Daniel Bruhl (Erik Jan Hanussen), Charles Dance (Kitchener), Ron Cook (Archduke Ferdinand), Ian Kelly (President Woodrow Wilson), Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Archie Reid), Alexandra Maria Lara (Emily); Runtime: 131; MPAA Rating: R; producers; Matthew Vaughn, David Reid, Adam Bohling: 20th Century Studios; 2021-UK/USA)

“A nonsensical comics-based Brit spy thriller set in the early 1900s.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A nonsensical comics-based Brit spy thriller set in the early 1900s, during the days of World War I. It’s a prequel to Matt Vaughn’s 2014 & 2017 other violent films on The Kingsmen. The Brit producer and filmmaker Matthew Vaughn (“Kick-Ass “/”Layer Cake”) directs the 2021 prequel with some foolhardy fun and lots of goofy mayhem, but there’s an underlyng call to say it’s better to be a pacifist than a hawk.

It looms as a disappointment because the material is too much of an overload, the execution is muddled (I had no idea where the film was heading), and the overqualified cast can’t come to grips with the film’s silliness (except for the lead Ralph Fiennes, who is not distracted by the hokum and gives a stellar performance).

It’s based on the 2012 comic book “The Secret Service” by Mark Millar & Dave Gibbons, and is co-written by Karl Gajdusek.

It reveals how the Kingsman society came to be founded and located in a posh tailor’s shop in London’s Savile Row, and how it was created by the Duke of Oxford, employing his household servants (Djimon Hounsou & Gemma Arterton) during WW I to take down a mysterious megalomaniac genius supposedly the evil behind the cabal responsible for such things as the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914, the death of Lord Kitchener (Charles Dance) in 1916 and the Russian revolution in 1917.

Without offering any proof, the film also makes the dubious claim that the celebrated Wilfred Owen poem Dulce et Decorum Est was actually written by the teenage son (Harris Dickinson) of the Kingsman’s wealthy, aristocratic founder, the pacifist Duke of Oxford (Ralph Fiennes). His wife (Alexandra Maria Lara) was killed during the Boer War in 1902 aiding those in need at a Red Cross shelter, as she accompanied her meddling hubby into the war zone. Later acquiescing to the request of Kitchener, the Duke got into the spy business for his country (it’s that kind of messy film, where history is the first casualty of the war).

Nevertheless despite being so heavily flawed there are some fine set pieces, plenty of entertaining sword fights, knife fights and stylish battle scenes in the trenches, an ongoing bizarre humor and, as far as I’m concerned, the film’s maddening highlight scene, the strangely queer showing of Rasputin the Mad Monk (Rhys Ifans) licking the leg of Ralph Fiennes’s Duke of Oxford (a reason enough to watch such tripe, if you must).

Tom Hollander acquits himself well, amusingly playing the three parts of the historical cousins: King George, Kaiser Wilhelm and Tsar Nicolas.
The pointless pic may be technically sound but its flippant and faulty storyline is not meant to be taken seriously even if the director’s vain call for pacifism is meant to be serious (it’s a superficial film, one that references real-life historical events in ways that are inaccurate — as one of his more outrageous claims is laughable (it made me laugh) that stoops to the low level of grossness showing the failed racist President Wilson (Ian Kelly) getting a lap dance.

REVIEWED ON 12/22/2021  GRADE: C+