The Kingsman Movies Ranked
The progression of the Kingsman film series is one of great disappointment. I mean, it’s not like the first movie, KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE, was some incredible masterpiece that has been sullied too much by the two that have followed it since 2014. But the initial adaptation of Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons’ postmodern spy comic THE SECRET SERVICE (2012, with “Kingsman” retroactively affixed to the beginning of the title) was really entertaining, better even than than the initial graphic novel, which I admittedly didn’t really love anyways. Director Matthew Vaughn’s interpretation of the Millar book has definitely taken on a shape of its own, but unfortunately, that shape has degraded, all the way up to the impetus for this piece: the prequel THE KING’S MAN, released on December 22, 2021. There’s more Kingsman visual media on the way as well, with sequel “The Blue Blood” scheduled for 2023 and spin-off “The Statesman” and an eight-hour limited TV series in development. If the franchise continues on the simple path of degrading quality I’ve set here with this ranked list, Kingsman may end up one of the greater fumbled balls of the many fumbled balls in today’s Hollywood blockbuster space.
All movies directed by Matthew Vaughn.
#3 — THE KING’S MAN (2021)
This sour perspective on the Kingsman movies is definitely tied to the terrible THE KING’S MAN. Besides having a silly naming convention (I mean, it’s not the only action franchise that has fallen prey to that [ahem, PREDATOR , PREDATORS , THE PREDATOR ), the prequel is also a silly attempt at spy parody and serious war drama. Oh, and at being a “story about trauma.” I was shocked to learn that THE KING’S MAN wasn’t built from an unrelated script turned Kingsman story, a la 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE (2016). There are at least two movies and tones at work in the movie, if not more. That’s not to say that it’s not possible to pull off tonal shifts in film, but instead, THE KING’S MAN doesn’t pull off any one of its tones at all. Vaughn directs his action scenes the way he’s directed them in the other Kingsman movies: with lots of spinning. There are still a number of enjoyable sequences that come out of this template, but most of the time, it’s dizzying. As with many filmmakers telling World War I stories, Vaughn also relies on a bland color palette. Beyond the visual aspects, and Ralph Fiennes’ admirable attempt to turn his poorly built character into a strong personality, THE KING’S MAN also represents the worst incarnation of the series’ already pretty bad politics. Its take on alternate history essentially glorifies vigilantism (something the other movies do as well, but in a more parodic and less self-serious manner), defends a “benevolent” ruling class, implicates historical figures as supervillain cronies, and presents a cynical view on life and the necessity of killing and war. These are not elements unique to THE KING’S MAN or even just a handful of action movies, but because the movie is trying to deepen Kingsman lore and assign a greater message to what started out as a James Bond parody, they’re all the more glaring.
#2 — KINGSMAN: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE (2017)
I can’t believe I’m writing that I’d rather watch KINGSMAN: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE than THE KING’S MAN. After originally watching THE GOLDEN CIRCLE, I thought it was a pretty miserable follow up with its own share of icky politics. But compared to its prequel, the movie is a closer approximation to what made the first movie good. Its conceit, which eradicates the title secret society and brings in the American cousin organization (“Statesman”) allows for a cool rethink of the exposition in THE SECRET SERVICE and the inclusion of a great new cast of supporting performers, including Jeff Bridges, Pedro Pascal, Halle Berry, Channing Tatum, and Julianne Moore. But for all this, THE GOLDEN CIRCLE gets pretty messy in its espionage twists, and just generally serves up lamer jokes and action, save for the inclusion of Elton John as himself. Like THE KING’S MAN, THE GOLDEN CIRCLE is also a thumb’s down for me, but one that lilts a little bit closer to a horizontal thumb. Bad metaphor.
#1 — KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE (2014)
KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE was a big hit. It was the kind of action blockbuster that seemed to take people by surprise and delight with its slightly different, dark yet palatable action comedy. You can include myself in that reception. Vaughn, as he had done with KICK-ASS (2010), was able to adapt the kind of grittiness and mean-spiritedness that I’ve found inherent to many of Millar’s comics and capture some of that spirit, while streamlining the writer’s concepts into more entertaining fare. While THE GOLDEN CIRCLE carried the parody tone, and THE KING’S MAN tried to integrate it into a few poorly conceived scenes among an apparent war drama, THE SECRET SERVICE was able to take on James Bond and other British spy tropes with style. The action choreography that Vaughn would kind of do to death in his next two films was pretty cool, especially in the much lauded “Freebird” scene. But as with the successive movies, I’m able to see some issues in how THE SECRET SERVICE portrays its heroes and their decisions. I was especially put off by the strange sexual conclusion to the movie, even though it stood in for ridiculous “Bond girl” interactions, but I’ve also started to tire of the implications of “secret society” action stories. But these criticisms represent a kind of hair-splitting in relation to the problems I have with THE GOLDEN CIRCLE and THE KING’S MAN. THE SECRET SERVICE leans into its over-the-top approach more effectively, and renders its action and jokes more spectacularly, so as to settle into a theme park autopilot that doesn’t call my mind to the same kind of misguided villainous portrayals in the following Kingsman movies.