Despite a clever, history-subverting idea and a few great action sequences, this overlong, mostly needless prequel flails all over the place, pretending to decry violence but actually thriving on it. Directed and co-written, like its predecessors, by Matthew Vaughn, the The King's Man story twists are actually cleverly silly, incorporating bits of history and swirling them around, Forrest Gump-style, into something new. For example, Tom Hollander plays King George, Kaiser Wilhelm, and Tsar Nicholas, who are all -- ahem -- cousins. Vladimir Lenin and Mata Hari also show up jn the mix, and Ifans' Rasputin is a totally unpredictable creation who lends some energy to the movie -- and especially to his balletic fight scene during a lavish Christmas ball.
The final showdown, with Orlando trying to parachute onto a plateau, becoming trapped in the wing of his plane, and then just missing the edge of the cliff, is a true white-knuckler, smoothly helmed by Vaughn. But that's a long ways into The King's Man. Too much of the movie's two-hour-plus running time veers into insincere attempts to drive home the nonviolence theme, including scenes of WWI that are simply not funny; instead -- as Peter Jackson's incredible They Shall Not Grow Old demonstrated -- they were really deadly serious. Not to mention the aftermath of those scenes, which fall into weepy pathos and creates a dead spot in the center of the movie. Ultimately, this film that's seemingly devoted to cleverness, action, and fun finally has too little of any of those to make it worth the effort.