Movies: Clothes don’t make the man in ‘The King’s Man’

Playfully violent and impeccably dressed “Kingsman: The Secret Service” hit the screens in 2015 and was an irreverent breath of fresh air. But that first film’s charm had worn off by the time its sequel, 2017’s “Kingsman: The Golden Circle,” rolled around, and now we’re presented with its prequel, “The King’s Man,” which is baffling even on a molecular level. How are we here? Why are we here? And did anyone ask that?

“The King’s Man” is a sensational, over-the-top presentation of World War I with Britain’s elite super spy agency as the day’s secret saviors. Somehow, it involves a spinning, twirling, and ballet-dancing Rasputin, a herd of petulant goats, and a sex tape starring Woodrow Wilson. It’s supposed to blow up the story, but all it does is make you roll your eyes.

The film, rated R for strong violence, is currently being released widely.

Ralph Fiennes plays Orlando Oxford, the founder of the Kingsman agency, a British aristocrat whose connections and influence on world leaders have the ability to alter history. He teaches his son Conrad (Harris Dickinson) the ropes in the days leading up to World War I, a historical playground that director and co-writer Matthew Vaughn uses to recast the Great War through his own cracked lens.

Vaughn (“Kick-Ass,” “Layer Cake”) is a sleek, stylish director and he pulls off several wild action scenes, including a confrontation with Rasputin (Rhys Ifans, rendered unrecognizable under a rat’s nest beard and goth eye makeup) on Tchaikovsky and a sequence with Oxford attempting to parachute out of a plane as he plummets headfirst to the ground. These settings clash tonally with the film’s simpler, dressier scenes, and “The King’s Man” plays like historical fiction occasionally spiced up with action-addicted razzmatazz.

Djimon Hounsou and Gemma Arterton are on board as Oxford teammates, fellow architects of the Kingsman universe. But nothing here feels quite as lively or as grossly fun as the first “Kingsman” movie, which blasted the very conventions that “The King’s Man” embraces. Don’t let its beautiful tailoring fool you; it’s a mess.

Elizabeth J. Harless