“Reputation is what people think of you. Character is what you are.”
Duke of Oxford
The third entry in the Kingsman series is an origin story for the secret organisation, told through an alternate history First World War. Vaughn perhaps wished to make a war (or indeed anti-war) movie, and he does produce some sobering footage of the chaos of trench warfare. Ralph Fiennes is a fine precursor to Colin Firth’s gentleman spy, but the Duke’s pacifist desire to shield his son, Conrad, from war feels at odds with the world of Kingsman, and the resulting focus transforms a franchise known for its excess into a tedious matter of fictional politics. Indeed, aside from a brief excursion to Russia to assassinate a scenery-chewing Rhys Ifans as Rasputin, it is only the film’s final half hour that truly feels like a Kingsman film at all. Much of my criticism lies in the script, plagued by awful dialogue and pacing — notably, this is Vaughn’s first film without Jane Goldman, his longstanding screenwriting collaborator. Transferring the authorship of Wilfred Owen’s most famous poem to Conrad is cheap writing and unnecessary revisionism, worst still as the boy has not even been to the front when he supposedly pens it. I criticised the lack of women in The Golden Circle and the situation has not improved, with Gemma Arterton being the sole noteworthy character. The best thing about The King’s Man is that it will surely free Vaughn to move on to other projects outside the franchise. Whether he can return to the rising star I heralded with his exceptional first three films remains to be seen.
“This is a business where the buyer gets nothing for his money but a memory. What he bought still belongs to the man who sold it. That’s the real magic of the movies.”
Louis B. Mayer
With the freedom afforded by Netflix, Fincher explores 1930s Hollywood by painstakingly creating a black and white film that feels as though it might have been unearthed from that era. It is something of a niche endeavour but the results are remarkable. Structurally, it is less convoluted than it first appears, using the screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz’s work on the screenplay for Citizen Kane as a vehicle for his reminiscing through a series of flashbacks about his experiences with the Hollywood figures who inspired the story. Gary Oldman’s larger than life characters have always been entertaining, but the nuanced roles he has chosen of late reveal his true depth as an actor — as Mank he is self-confident and witty but not always likeable, with alcoholism and a need to sound smart often eroding any self-restraint. Fincher’s focus is less on how Citizen Kane was written than the squalid nature of Hollywood as seen through Mank’s disillusioned eyes, with executives performing as much as actors to manipulate others, and the lies of the silver screen feeding into politics. What holds the film back is (in common with much of Fincher’s work) a lack of emotional weight to any of Mank’s relationships, all of which seem considered rather than felt, more in character for Welles than the erratic Mankiewicz.
“This is a maximum security prison, and you have no weapons of any kind?”
David Fincher may now command respect but he had to battle studio interference in his first film, stepping into an already embattled project with script rewrites whilst sets were already in construction. The 2003 Assembly Cut restores half an hour of character scenes demonstrating Fincher’s desire for a deeper film with parallel threads of isolation beyond the prison planet itself, through divisions of gender, criminality, intelligence, religion, and sanity. This outing is more akin to the atmospheric original, limiting the xenomorph’s screen time, than Cameron’s gung-ho sequel (albeit undermined by some shoddy CGI). The last act is a confused mess of an action sequence in a network of identical tunnels in which it is impossible to tell where any characters are in relation to one another. In extended form the film is not as bad as its reputation, but still worlds away from its predecessors.