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King's Man (4K Ultra HD), The
Entertaining and well-cast, The King's Man is a prequel and soft reboot of Matthew Vaughn's Kingsman series. Kingsman: The Secret Service and its sequel, Kingsman: The Golden Circle, are highly enjoyable homages to 1960s spy thrillers, complete with intricate gadgets, stylish leads, and over-the-top villains. Buoyed by leads Colin Firth and Taron Egerton, the first two films are certainly worth checking out, as is The King's Man, which jumps backward in time over 100 years to detail the roots of the films' spy agency. The pacing and tone are somewhat erratic here, by Vaughn again offers dazzling action, humor, and a stacked cast. The film also weaves in real historical events and figures, including Russian mystic Grigori Rasputin, an exasperated President Woodrow Wilson, the Zimmerman Telegram, and British Secretary of State for War Lord Herbert Kitchener.
A shadowy organization known as "The Flock," led by a cloaked figure called "The Shepherd," intends to spur the German, Russian and British empires into war by turning their leaders against one another. Orlando, Duke of Oxford, (Ralph Fiennes) recruits his butler Shola (Djimon Hounsou) and maid Polly Watkins (Gemma Arterton) into a spy network dedicated to protecting the British Empire from the Great War. Twelve years before, Orlando's wife Emily (Alexandra Maria Lara) was murdered in front of their son Conrad (Harris Dickinson) during the Second Boer War in South Africa, and Orlando promised to never allow Conrad to see war again. While Orlando uses his connection to Lord Kitchener (Charles Dance) to blacklist Conrad from enlisting in the military, he does allow Orlando to accompany him on missions. When Archduke Franz Ferdinand (Ron Cook) is murdered by a rebel, Orlando, Conrad, Shola and Polly travel to Russia to confront Rasputin (Rhys Ifans), who is working as an agent of the Flock.
Although the plot leans toward unnecessarily convoluted, The King's Man is quite an entertaining thriller. With cousins King George of England (Tom Hollander), Kaiser Wilhelm of German (Hollander again), and Tsar Nicholas of Russia (Hollander, get it?) nearing the brink of war, there is certainly a large historical backdrop to frame the action. The pacing and tone are somewhat erratic; The King's Man goes from a comedically queasy seduction by Rasputin toward Orlando to a dizzying fight between the pair and Conrad before slamming into the trenches of No-Man's Land on the Western Front, where Conrad has swapped places with another solider so he can see real combat. The Rasputin fight and a close-combat battle in No-Man's land make the final showdown seem less impressive, which somewhat dampens the climax. The film does provide some third-act tragedy to ground the characters, but continued sacrifices prove unable to convince President Wilson to join the war.
Vaughn again writes the script and supplies plenty of wit and humor alongside the action and explosions. The cast is particularly game here, and Ifans as the off-putting Rasputin, Fiennes as the dutiful protagonist, and Arterton as Orlando's reality check are highlights. At 131 minutes, the film clicks by quickly enough, but the brash changes in tone occasionally disrupt the flow. The climax is not the film's strongest point, though Orlando's arrival at the mountain-top villain's lair is both thrilling and comical. The King's Man retains the overall vibe of the previous two films while offering a unique and entertaining new setting. The film sets up a sequel, and I am certainly not opposed to following the exploits of these characters on new adventures.
THE 4K ULTRA HD:
A few of the titles released under the Disney banner recently have been underwhelming, but this 20th Century Studios/Disney release is not one of them. The 2.39:1/2160p/HEVC/H.265 image is upscaled from a 2K digital intermediate but offers a beautiful 4K image with HDR10. From the opening scene it became clear that the image excels in depth, clarity, and detail; wide shots and landscapes are lush and wonderfully detailed from end to end. Close-ups reveal every detail of fabrics, facial features and set dressings. Black levels are excellent and color saturation is top notch, with the HDR pass providing gorgeously bold but never unnatural colors. The image has a wonderful three-dimensional quality and is completely lacking in motion blur or compression artifacts. There are a couple of segments where CGI backgrounds become noticeable, and I did spot some very minor aliasing.
The Dolby Atmos mix, which I sampled as a 7.1 Dolby TrueHD track, largely steers clear of the pratfalls of some recent Disney mixes, though I did have to increase the volume a few notches to appreciate its full potential. With the level adjusted, this became a highly immersive, rambunctious mix that uses the surround channels to the fullest when presenting the frenetic action and comedic elements. Dialogue is crisp and clear, whether delivered from the center channel or surrounds, and it is layered, without distortion, among all elements appropriately. Ambient crowd noise and weather elements waft through the surrounds, and action elements rattle the subwoofer and whiz across the soundscape throughout. The score and musical selections sound fantastic, too, and I have little to complain about here. Japanese, Spanish, and French Dolby Digital mixes are included, as are English SDH, French, Japanese and Spanish subtitles.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
This two-disc set includes the 4K disc, a Blu-ray, and a digital copy code. The discs are packed in a black 4K case that is wrapped in a slipcover. Unlike most Disney releases labeled "Ultimate Collector's Edition," The King's Man offers supplemental material to earn the distinction. The King's Man: The Great Game Begins (1:29:33/HD) is an excellent, multi-part documentary about the production that includes ample behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with the cast and crew. This is the kind of feature-length making-of that is becoming a rarity, and it's a great addition here. You also get No Man's Land: Silent Knife Fight Sequence Breakdown (15:43/HD), which not only breaks down the action sequence but explores it in historical context. Finally, you get the Red Band Trailer (1:47/HD) and Remembrance and Finding Purpose (26:28/HD), which spotlights the people and organizations serving the soldiers and veterans of war.
Matthew Vaughn's prequel to his Kingsman series, The King's Man, sets the action at the turn of the 20th Century as England, Russia, and German are poised to head to war, and Ralph Fiennes, Djimon Hounsou, Gemma Arterton and Rhys Ifans lead a stocked cast. The pacing and tone are uneven, but Vaughn's soft reboot of the franchise is still thoroughly entertaining. This 4K Ultra HD release offers excellent picture and sound and a number of worthwhile supplements. Recommended.
William lives in Burlington, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.