"The Kingsman" was a 2012 Marvel comic book series about a fictional UK-based secret service organization created by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons. In 2015, it was adapted into an action-comedy film "Kingsman: The Secret Service" by Matthew Vaughn, starring Colin Firth and Taron Egerton as veteran agent Harry and new recruit Eggsy.
Following its success, a sequel "Kingsman: The Golden Circle" came out in 2017, about a case where Harry and Eggsy had to collaborate with their American counterparts, the Statesman.
This new film in the franchise is a prequel about how the Kingsman came to be in the turn of the 21st century. Following the tragic death of his wife Emily to a sniper's bullet during a Red Cross mission to South Africa during the Boer War in 1902, British aristocrat Orlando (Ralph Fiennes), the Duke of Oxford, recruited their driver Shola (Djimon Hounsou) and nanny Polly (Gemma Arterton) to organize a secret spy network of servants dedicated to prevent violent conflicts from ever happening in the United Kingdom and its empire.
In the mid-1920s, Oxford's organization was on alert as a Great War (later to be known as World War I) was brewing following the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo, which happened in the presence of the pacifist Oxford and his idealistic son Conrad (Harris Dickinson). Investigation revealed that assassin Gavrilo Princip was a member of a secret group led by the mysterious Shepherd, who was plotting to isolate Great Britain from any Russian and American military aid during the war.
Matthew Wilde's imaginative integration of real historical figures in a plot of international intrigue was the best part of this prequel. The most interesting detail was the relationship of George V, the Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany and Czar Nicholas of Russia (all played by Tom Hollander) as cousins. Nicholas was under the hypnotic influence of the mad mystic monk Rasputin (Rhys Ifans) for Russia to withdraw from the war, while the US government was wary of a sex reel of President Woodrow Wilson being seduced by Mata Hari.
The serious historical set-up took some time which may disappoint fans expecting the fun, light-spirited action-comedy of the first two films. Conrad's entire "1917"-like sequence in the battlefield was well-shot, but felt out of place. The CGI-enhanced fight sequences of Oxford against Rasputin at the Russian Christmas party and against Shepherd at his mountain-top lair were over-the-top but entertaining.
The post-credits scene suggests a World War II scenario next, but they should really go back to Harry and Eggsy again soon.
This review was originally published in the author's blog, “Fred Said.”