In all my years of reviewing movies - and we're coming up on a decade of me writing for this site - I don't know if I've ever seen a movie as wildly inconsistent as The King's Man. This prequel to Vaughn's two previous Kingsman movies has been delayed at least eight times. And while it's a little more controlled than the excessive Golden Circle, it's all over the place tonally. It can't decide if it wants to be Paths of Glory or Austin Powers.
From its opening scene, it's distinctly anti-war. When his wife is killed by a sniper's bullet, Orlando Oxford (Ralph Fiennes) devotes his life to pacifism. But since humanity can never stop killing each other, war keeps creeping up. Despite the best attempts of his team to thwart assassinations and take down bloodthirsty advisers, the Great War erupts. Oxford does all he can to keep his son Conrad (Harris Dickinson) from enlisting with the British Army. But nationalism and the endless conspiring of a league of supervillains keeps the bloodshed going, and Conrad is off to claim glory on the battlefield.
But before we get there, Orlando, Conrad and his team head to Russia in a section that feels like it's from a completely different film. Rhys Ifans is cranked up to 11 as Rasputin, who has a firm grasp on Tsar Nicholas II (Tom Hollander). This scene has it all: insults, sensual massage, near-drownings, projectile vomit and a sword fight. This feels closer in spirit to the first entry, which featured Colin Firth shooting a church full of white supremacists while "Free Bird" blared away on the soundtrack. But sandwiched between so many grim reminders of death, it feels wildly out of place.
The big finale also features some grand adventure, with death-defying leaps and an evil lair ruled over by our big bad. (His identity is hidden, but it will be obvious to even the least attentive viewer.) There are also goats. So. Many. Goats. Again, this feels par for the course for a franchise that featured an extended cameo by Elton John as himself. But The King's Man strains against the attempts to take the series in a more mature direction.
In terms of scale and intensity, this might be Matthew Vaughn's sharpest film yet. But in terms of mastering tone, it's a mess.