The King’s Man review

For F*** Magazine

Director: Matthew Vaughn
Cast : Ralph Fiennes, Harris Dickinson, Gemma Arterton, Djimon Hounsou, Rhys Ifans, Matthew Goode, Tom Hollander, Daniel Brühl, Charles Dance, Aaron Taylor-Johnson
Genre: Action/Adventure/Historical
Run Time : 131 min
Opens : 30 December 2021
Rating : NC16

The King’s Man is one of those movies that, thanks to the pandemic, feels like it’s been coming out forever – on top of release date shifts even before the pandemic. Now, we can finally learn the origins of the covert organisation at the heart of the Kingsman film series, loosely based on the graphic novel The Secret Service by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons.

It is just before the First World War, as chaos is brewing across the globe. Orlando (Ralph Fiennes), the Duke of Oxford, is a former soldier who has renounced a life of violence. His teenage son Conrad (Harris Dickinson) yearns for adventure and wants to enlist in the army, against his father’s wishes. Nanny Polly (Gemma Arterton) and valet Shola (Djimon Hounsou), employees of the Oxford household, are secretly assisting the Duke in an intelligence collection operation. In the shadows, a mastermind known only as the Shepherd is manipulating world events. His agents have proximity to power, including priest Grigori Rasputin (Rhys Ifans), con artist and self-proclaimed clairvoyant Erik Jan Hanussen (Daniel Brühl), industrialist Alfred DuPont (Todd Boyce) and spy/exotic dancer Mata Hari (Valerie Pachner). The Duke must race against the clock to prevent the Shepherd from plunging the world into irreparable chaos, as the seeds of the Kingsman spy agency are planted.

Big-budget period action-adventure movies with an alternate history bent are rare offerings, and The King’s Man plays in a sandbox that not many other tentpole franchise films play in. The closest analogue might be the first Wonder Woman movie, which was also set during WWI. Matthew Vaughn is nothing if not stylish. It’s hard not to be awed by flashy, show-off camera moves, like a shot that travels through the ocean, through the torpedo tube of a German submarine, and into the submarine’s control room.

For all the faults of the earlier Kingsman movies, and especially the second, Vaughn brought plenty of panache to the proceedings, which carries over here. While there’s nothing here that is as striking as the fight in the church in the first Kingsman movie, there are several wonderfully choreographed action scenes, including a swordfight with Rasputin in which the mad monk busts out some impressive acrobatic moves. The production design by Darren Gilford and costume design by Michele Clapton contribute to the specific mood of the movie – Vaughn isn’t aiming for total historical accuracy, but there’s also an attempt to sell the period and the settings.

The King’s Man wants to be a rip-snorting, swashbuckling adventure, but it also wants to be genuinely emotional and dramatic. This is a movie with obviously, intentionally goofy elements, including Tom Hollander in triple roles as cousins King George V, Kaiser Wilhelm II and Tsar Nicholas II (credited as Tom Hollander3). This is also a movie in which characters deal with crushing grief, one that tries to make a larger statement about the futility of war and the fallacious narrative of it being glorious to die in service of one’s country.

The movie is sometimes unable to support this pendulum swing between tones. For all of The King’s Man’s undeniable weirdness – there’s a scene in which one character licks another’s leg, in the middle of an attempted poisoning via Bakewell tart – there still is a predictability to the proceedings. The reveal of the big bad, for example, is far from surprising, and even if it was intended to be that obvious, is ultimately underwhelming. The movie also feels a little longer than its 131-minute runtime, given that there’s a lot to set up and a lot of real-life history to condense and fictionalise.

The first Kingsman movie’s greatest asset was arguably Colin Firth in an action-oriented role while also banking on his screen persona as a charming gentleman. Ralph Fiennes performs a similar function in this movie and does so with aplomb. He is an arresting screen presence and acquits himself impressively in the physical department, stunt doubles and digital trickery notwithstanding. Harris Dickinson is somewhat bland as Conrad, but the focus remains squarely on Fiennes’ Duke of Oxford. Both Arterton and Hounsou are delightful presences, but their characters are thinly drawn.

Rhys Ifans has a grand time playing Rasputin – after all, there’s no ceiling for “over the top” with a historical figure as outlandish and despicable as Rasputin was. It’s just a shame that Rasputin is not the ultimate villain, despite the trailers making it seem as such, and he is not in the movie for as long as this reviewer would have liked.

Summary: This prequel to the Kingsman movies is better than the bloated and unfocused second instalment, taking the franchise to an interesting place with its emphasis on historical fiction. Ralph Fiennes is also the ideal leading man for this story. However, for all of director Matthew Vaughn’s style, he struggles with maintaining tonal consistency, such that the movie is sometimes enjoyably goofy, and other times wants to be very serious. Ultimately, the movie’s weirdness makes it stand out amongst the comic book movie landscape and does show the potential of action-adventure movies rooted in historical fiction. Stick around for a mid-credits scene.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Spider-Man: No Way Home review

For F*** Magazine

Director: Jon Watts
Cast : Tom Holland, Benedict Cumberbatch, Zendaya, Jacob Batalon, Marisa Tomei, Jon Favreau, Alfred Molina, Willem Dafoe, Jamie Foxx, Thomas Haden Church, Rhys Ifans, J.K. Simmons, Benedict Wong
Genre: Action/Adventure/Comics
Run Time : 148 min
Opens : 16 December 2021 (Sneaks 15 December 2021)
Rating : PG

The following review is spoiler-free.

For months, anticipation for Spider-Man: No Way Home has been building to a fever pitch. The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has begun toying with the multiverse, a concept familiar to comic book readers. The Disney+ shows Loki and What If…? have been planting the seeds, with the upcoming Doctor Strange: In the Multiverse of Madness set to further establish the concept. Before that, No Way Home flings open the gates.

At the end of Spider-Man: Far from Home, online journalist J. Jonah Jameson (J.K.Simmons) broadcast a video revealing Spider-Man’s secret identity: Peter Parker (Tom Holland). The public believes that the villainous Quentin Beck/Mysterio was really a heroic inter-dimensional warrior, turning on Spider-Man for apparently murdering Mysterio. Now the subject of intense scrutiny, which affects his girlfriend MJ (Zendaya), his best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) and his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), Peter grows desperate. He turns to Stephen Strange/Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) for help. Doctor Strange devises a spell to make everyone forget Spider-Man’s secret identity, but the spell goes awry, causing fractures in the multiverse to form. Soon, villains from alternate realities arrive, including Otto Octavius/Doctor Octopus (Alfred Molina), Norman Osborn/Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe), Max Dillon/Electro (Jamie Foxx), Flint Marko/Sandman (Thomas Haden Church) and Curt Connors/the Lizard (Rhys Ifans). Spider-Man must contend with forces far beyond his understanding, as the displaced villains formulate an agenda of their own.

Watching Spider-Man: No Way Home feels like reading a comic book in the best way. Comic books aren’t confined by the same logistical constraints that live-action movies are. If a character needs to make a surprise appearance in an issue of a comic, there aren’t scheduling conflicts to contend with. Drawing an elaborate set is a different matter from constructing one. Like Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse before it, No Way Home indulges the “oh, wouldn’t it be fun if…” daydreaming, something all comic book movie fans are given to. We’ve all had conversations where we voice our hope for something to happen or some character to show up, only for the reality of franchise rights and actor availability to dash those dreams. No Way Home takes viewers to the other side where all that is possible.

At the centre of it all, however, is the emotional arc of Peter Parker’s fear that his secret identity is putting those he loves and cares about in danger. Tom Holland’s performance remains endearing and relatable, with the supporting cast of Peter’s loved ones supplying both humour and emotion. Amidst the wild multiversal goings-on and the assault of multiple villains, this through-line holds the movie together. This is a movie that’s constantly in danger of being too convoluted and of having too much plot, but director Jon Watts keeps all the plates spinning. The general plot beats are easy to follow and the 148-minute runtime passes by at a pleasant clip.

Just like comics often do, No Way Home requires viewers to have at least some prior knowledge of the preceding material in the series – and not just of this current Spider-Man trilogy, but the iterations that came before it. There is an attempt to establish each villain with a two-line summary of what their whole deal is, but the nature of this story requires a level of engagement with the material which not all audiences will have. If you’re not already sold on the conceit, then everything will be faintly to extremely ridiculous. One of the features of present-day geek-centric entertainment is the prevalence of fanservice, of presenting something and then going “here’s that thing you like!” Like any device, this can be deployed artfully or clumsily. While No Way Home tends towards the former, it can sometimes feel like a wobbly Jenga tower of references to other stuff.

Unfortunately, a lot of the visual effects work comes off as especially synthetic. Wholly digital characters like Sandman and the Lizard feel phony, and several of the set-pieces are very reliant on digital backgrounds, such that it’s hard to place the characters in a physical space. Compare Doc Ock’s tentacles in this movie, which are completely computer-generated, with those in Spider-Man 2, which featured both digital and elaborate animatronic tentacles.

No Way Home promises to be a nostalgia trip, and it makes good on that promise. Few thought we’d see Willem Dafoe and Alfred Molina reprise their roles as the Green Goblin and Doc Ock respectively. Both actors are given more than mere cameos, and do get to give wonderful performances which remind us how good they were in their original appearances. Jamie Foxx’s Electro is slightly more menacing and credible and less cartoonish than in The Amazing Spider-Man 2. The screening this reviewer attended was sometimes reminiscent of when a guest star enters the room in a sitcom and the live audience goes wild. There was a lot of cheering and whooping, which is gratifying and enjoyable.

Summary: Spider-Man: No Way Home is reliant on nostalgia by design. However, it also deftly juggles multiple elements without things seeming too cluttered. While being very ambitious, the movie never loses sight of the emotional arc in which Peter Parker just wants to protect those he loves and cares about. If you’re a Spider-Man fan of any description, this is a treat. Not every comic book movie should try to be like No Way Home, because it is something special, but also something that other movies could trip up in attempting to imitate. Stick around for one mid-credits and one post-credits scene.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Alice Through the Looking Glass

For F*** Magazine


Director : James Bobin
Cast : Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Sacha Baron Cohen, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway, Rhys Ifans, Matt Lucas, Alan Rickman, Stephen Fry, Timothy Spall, Barbara Windsor, Paul Whitehouse, Matt Vogel
Genre : Adventure/Fantasy
Run Time : 1 hr 53 mins
Opens : 6 July 2016
Rating : PG

Alice Through the Looking Glass posterUnderland beckons Alice Kingsleigh (Wasikowska) once more in this sequel to the 2010 fantasy adventure. After spending the last three years on the high seas as the captain of her father’s ship the Wonderland, Alice returns to the magical realm she has visited twice before. Absolem (Rickman) the butterfly leads her through the Looking Glass, whereupon Alice is reunited with her friends Mirana the White Queen (Hathaway), the Cheshire cat (Fry), Nivens McTwisp the White Rabbit (Sheen), Bayard the Bloodhound (Spall), Mallykun the Dormouse (Windsor) and Thackery Earwicket the March Hare (Whitehouse). They inform her that Tarrant Hightopp the Mad Hatter (Depp) is ill, and the White Queen convinces Alice to journey through time in search of the Hatter’s family, long presumed killed. Alice comes face to face with Time (Baron Cohen), who controls all time in Underland with a device known as the Chronosphere. To save the Hatter, Alice defies Time himself in an odyssey that will upend all of Underland.
Alice Through the Looking Glass Anne Hathaway, Johnny Depp and Mia Wasikowska

2010’s Alice in Wonderlandgrossed over $1 billion worldwide, and that seems like just about the only reason Alice Through the Looking Glass was made. With the first film, director Tim Burton delivered an Underland that was stuffed with eye candy but a plot that bore little resemblance to the irrepressible anarchic surrealism that fuelled Lewis Carroll’s stories. Burton is replaced in the director’s chair by James Bobin, who inherits and competently carries forth the first film’s visual style, but who does not steer the material any closer to the spirit of the source.

Alice Through the Looking Glass Mia Wasikowska, Tweedledum and Tweedledee, Cheshire Cat, Bloodhound and Anne Hathaway

Linda Woolverton, who also wrote this film’s predecessor, has bolted a time travel story onto the world and characters of Alice in Wonderland, and not a particularly inspired one at that. By having Alice meet younger versions of the Mad Hatter and the White and Red Queens amongst others, this functions as a prequel without strictly being one. This approach whittles away at whatever charm and mystique the characters possessed in the 2010 film, and the backstories are distinctly underwhelming. The Mad Hatter has daddy issues and the Red and White Queen have a bog-standard petty sibling rivalry, hardly the stuff of euphoric whimsy.

Alice Through the Looking Glass Mia Wasikowska and chessmen

Granted, it is pretty to look at. Time’s domain, a cavernous Gothic cathedral is suitably foreboding and the action set pieces are intermittently entertaining. Costume designer Colleen Atwood’s creations are intricate and delightful, with Alice spending the bulk of the film in a kaleidoscopic dress inspired by Chinese imperial costumes. The way the Hatter’s makeup subtly morphs depending on his mood was a fun idea from the first film that works just as well here. The Red Queen’s servants draw inspiration from the paintings of Giuseppe Arcimboldo, famous for his creations of humanoid figures comprised of fruits and vegetables. The visual splendour just doesn’t quite make up for the film’s narrative shortcomings.

Alice Through the Looking Glass Helena Bonham Carter

The bulk of the cast from the first film are back, but most of the characters seem to be here just for the sake of it. Yes, there’s some joy to be derived from seeing Alice reunited with her other-worldly pals, but the character interactions come off as largely perfunctory. Wasikowska’s Alice is meant to be plucky and spirited, but she’s difficult to buy as an action heroine – never mind that turning Alice into an action heroine still reeks of boardroom mandate. Many of the crises that arise in this film seem to be the direct result of Alice making silly mistakes, and there’s the sense that she should know better since this isn’t her first Underland rodeo.

Alice Through the Looking Glass Sacha Baron Cohen

Baron Cohen plays Time with an air of moustache-twirling villainy layered atop his usual goofiness – except the character really isn’t written as that bad a guy. The question of whether or not time can be considered an abstract concept has led to much chin-scratching amongst philosophers through the ages. Having the personification of time as a fantasy film antagonist is a fine idea, and the German accent Baron Cohen affects brings precision engineering to mind. Alas, it’s hard to shake the feeling that most of the character’s potential remains untapped.

Alice Through the Looking Glass Johnny Depp

The rest of the characters are much as we remember them. Johnny Depp’s just being Johnny Depp – not much more to say than that. The wild abandon with which Bonham Carter essayed the Red Queen’s petulance and sadism was a highlight of the 2010 film and here, the attempt to give the character a degree of sympathy seems like a massive miscalculation. The mellifluous voices of Fry, Spall and the late Rickman are a welcome aural treat to supplement all that eye candy. The Hatter’s family, in particular his father Zanik (Ifans), are meant to be the linchpins of the plot, but have minimal screen time and make little impact. Andrew Scott, Sherlock’s Moriarty, is also criminally wasted in a throwaway role as a sinister psychiatrist.

Alice Through the Looking Glass Mia Wasikowska and Johnny Depp in town square

Unlike a large number of critics, this reviewer did not find Alice Through the Looking Glass to be an unmitigated disaster. Despite its wrongheaded approach and lacklustre plot, it still manages to be entertaining and attention-grabbing. While the design work might be too gaudy for some, it’s still lavish and immersive. Still, it’s disappointing that this film repeats its predecessor’s mistake of attempting to squeeze Lewis Carroll’s bizarre and iconic creations into a tent-pole blockbuster mould.

Alice Through the Looking Glass Mia Wasikowska and Absolem the butterfly

Summary:Back to the Future did it better” isn’t quite what we should be saying after an Alice in Wonderland movie.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars