The King’s Man: Is a WW1 Prequel the Right Move for the Kingsman Series?

After a muddled sequel, is such a drastic change in direction the best hope for the Kingsman franchise?

When it was released in 2014, the first Kingsman film was a breath of fresh air. I grew up on the Bond films of old, where Roger Moore would utter some contrived quip before saving the world, using a gadget to dispatch the megalomaniacal villain, and so I embraced the playful homage of such films in Kingsman: The Secret Service with open arms. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the current era of James Bond but it was a pleasure to see that kind of spy adventure again. It was very much like a 70’s Bond film but made today, with modern sensibilities when it came to the action and comedy. It knew exactly what it wanted to be and pulled it off brilliantly. Sadly, Kingsman: The Golden Circle, the sequel that arrived in 2017, had no idea what it wanted to be. The franchise jumped the shark and crossed the line into pure ridiculousness, with characters now able to survive gunshots to the head and poisoned drugs that make you dance, and there was a multitude of unnecessary subplots including the kidnapping of Elton John, corruption in the White House and the reveal of the Statesman. A direct sequel is supposedly in the works, but next year the franchise returns with an unexpected prequel set during the First World War. Is this the series further losing its way or could The King’s Man be just what the franchise needs right now?

Before we set our sights on the prequel, let’s look at whether a sequel would be the better move. And the short answer is no. Sure, a sequel could be great and a return to form. I could see myself enjoying Kingsman 3 immensely but at the moment I’m not sure I want one. It would be difficult because they literally blew everything up in The Golden Circle and what does remain isn’t that interesting. I didn’t find the set up for the Statesman all that intriguing, many of the good supporting characters were killed (unceremoniously so in Roxy’s case) and I don’t want to see Channing Tatum join the Kingsman like the film’s ending suggested. Taron Egerton is a talented actor and I very much enjoyed his turn as Elton John in this year’s Rocketman, so at this point I think I would rather see him in other roles rather than return to that of Eggsy. Sequels mean escalation and The Golden Circle was already escalated enough. A sequel could cut back to the same, admittedly bonkers, level as the first film but I worry that a third film would double down on The Golden Circle’s missteps and end up jumping a whole shiver of sharks.

So, strangely, a sequel might not be the best way forward for the Kingsman franchise, but World War One seems like an odd place for the series to go. Sure, you can tackle the origin of the titular organisation but it radically changes the influences and tone that have so clearly defined these films. The Kingsman movies may be of the action spy genre, which goes along well with the WW1 setting, but they’re also strongly comedic and when I think of the First World War I don’t imagine it being a barrel of laughs. The trailer suggests that the film is going for an intentionally sombre tone to match the setting but I fear this might be too big a change. Although, the short trailer may not be fully representative of the film itself. It even seems intent on hiding the fact that this is a Kingsman movie until the final few moments.

Kingsman: The Secret Service was in many ways a love letter to the James Bond films and, even though the sequel began its own world-building, that core of Bond homage remained. However, moving the series to WW1 may lead to some sort of identity crisis because the Bond tropes that previous movies have openly embraced will be quashed by the time period. Moving away from the almost spoof roots of 007 may be needed to allow Kingsman to fully blossom into its own franchise. It offers more creative freedom than before but just how far removed can the film get while still feeling like a Kingsman movie? Series director Matthew Vaughn has stated about The King’s Man: “I wanted to do an epic adventure film, and then had this idea about how it could tie into Kingsman, and bang – the whole story came into my head”. So, the genesis of the film was that it would be an original idea and then it was implanted into the Kingsman universe afterwards. That’s not necessarily a bad thing but the idea of Kingsman being a fairly directionless franchise that films of different genres can be inserted into could go either way in its longevity. It could make it one of the most malleable franchises going, able to achieve multiple styles while maintaining a strong identity, or it could further the negative aspects of The Golden Circle and prove Kingsman to be a series that can easily go off the rails and lose its magic.

The only thing we can base opinions on at the moment is the short teaser trailer and from that we can get a sense of what Kingsman elements The King’s Man retains. I expect the film to have similar levels of action as the two other films in the series, albeit less likely to have pop and rock music non-diegetically blast during them. The weaponry will clearly be different with swordplay, rifles and whatever fight-dancing Rasputin was performing replacing the more general modern fare. The gadgetry will be toned down too with no futuristic technology barging its way into the period setting, with sword canes taking the place of the multi-purpose umbrellas from previous films. Once again, a bevy of British acting talent is on display from Ralph Fiennes, Charles Dance, Gemma Arterton, Matthew Goode and even Liam Neeson rumoured for a cameo. I fear that if Kingsman 3 is made they’ll have run out of actors to star in it. The film also returns to several familiar locations, such as the Kingsman tailors and the stately home training facility. Both of these were destroyed in The Golden Circle so The King’s Man may end up feeling more like the first film than even a straight-forward sequel could.

It’s apt that The King’s Man is going back to the start of the Kingsman organisation because it also acts as a new start for the franchise. Matthew Vaughn had originally wanted to shoot the film back-to-back with Kingsman 3 but it looks as if that hasn’t happened and that the future of the franchise rests on the shoulders of the upcoming prequel. Despite some aspects making me wary of the direction the series is going, I’m excited for the film. As much as I was disappointed with The Golden Circle, I hope The King’s Man isn’t overly reactionary and, in the act of removing the flabby aspects that plagued the sequel, removes too much of the original Kingsman identity.

Are you excited for The King’s Man? Do you share any of my concerns? Let me know in the comments and geek out with me about TV, movies and video-games on Twitter @kylebrrtt.

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