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(2021) (Ralph Fiennes, Harris Dickinson) (R)

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Action: A small group of covert spies tries to stop a villain from changing the course and outcome of WWI.

It's the mid-1910s, and a mysterious villain has decided to upend world peace by having Archduke Ferdinand of Austria assassinated. That results in WWI, and aristocratic pacifist Orlando Oxford (RALPH FIENNES) is determined not to allow his barely underage teenage son, Conrad (HARRIS DICKINSON), to join the war, all to uphold a promise he made a decade earlier to his now late wife. Despite Conrad desperately wanting to go to war, British General Kitchener (CHARLES DANCE) assures Orlando that should Conrad sign up once of age, he will never see combat.

As a result, and with the help of his two assistants -- Shola (DJIMON HOUNSOU) and Polly (GEMMA ARTERTON) -- Orlando directs his attention toward figuring out the lead villain's identity, all while dealing with his various henchmen including Grigori Rasputin (RHYS IFANS). With the villain determined to prevent America from joining the war through risqué subterfuge, Orlando and his small team must race against time to prevent Germany from winning the war.

OUR TAKE: 5.5 out of 10

Sometimes life and all the challenges it entails and delivers means you need some sort of "Calgon, take me away" diversion to forget about things for a while. That can come in any shape and form, and sometimes the goofier that relief is, the better and more effective it is in doing its job.

And if that works, you might look more favorably toward that diversion than you might otherwise under less trying times. All of which could be part -- but not all -- of the reason I enjoyed "The King's Man," the third film in the Kingsman franchise that started with 2014's "Kingsman: The Secret Service" and continued with 2017's Kingsman: The Golden Circle."

Yet, rather than be another sequel, this one goes back in time to examine the creation of the spy agency and do a little flight of fancy, Forrest Gump-style revisionism of historical events and figures along the way.

There's no denying it's an odd duck of an offering, part -- natch -- standard Kingsman hyper-violent action flick, part "1917" style war action pic, and, well, something nearly indescribable in Rhys Ifans' way-over-the-top portrayal of real-life mystic and former favorite of the last Russian emperor, Grigori Rasputin.

But before we get to him and that, the film has a prologue where the Duke of Oxford, Orlando (Ralph Fiennes) visits a British concentration camp and is less than pleased with what he sees. But for him, that pales in comparison to an assassin's bullets that injure him, kill his wife, and ruin the childhood of their boy.

Flash-forward a decade or so and Conrad (Harris Dickinson) has now grown up and wants to join other young Brit soldiers in WWI, what with having nearly stopped the kicking-off point of the war, the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand. A pacifist and wanting to honor his dying wife's wish that he keep their son out of harm's way, Orlando refuses to allow the slightly underage teen from joining the effort.

But time ticks by and the mysterious chief villain behind all of this -- who's eventually revealed late in the flick but isn't that much of a surprise -- keeps sending his goons, including Rasputin, to do his dirty work. All of which means -- also no surprise -- that Fiennes will eventually join his assistants (played by Djimon Hounsou and Gemma Arterton) in delivering some uber-violent and hyper-stylized comeuppance.

Tonally, the film -- directed once again by Matthew Vaughn from a script he co-wrote with Karl Gajdusek -- is all over the place, and the shifts in that -- from goofy action flick to no man's land trench warfare and then back again, peppered with Rasputin's overzealous appetite for anything and everything -- are often jarring and incongruous.

Despite that, there's enough familiar material and storytelling to appease fans of the previous two films, while it was just enough of what the "get your mind off things" cinematic doctor ordered to distract me from life's woes. Perhaps a second viewing would yield a different critique, but in its time and place when I saw it, "The King's Man" was entertainingly diverting enough to warrant a 5.5 out of 10 rating.

Reviewed December 6, 2021 / Posted December 22, 2021

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