Ralph Fiennes isn’t really one for superhero movies. The King’s Man star may be known for playing one of fantasy’s biggest villains in the Harry Potter series, but he’s stayed mostly clear of the Marvel and DC mega-movie universes. Why is that? As he and director Matthew Vaughn put it, there needs to be one thing at the centre of it all: Humanity.
“Superhero movies are not the first film of choice I go to, I suppose,” Fiennes said. “Having been in the Harry Potter franchise — that was very rooted in a very human, young person’s world. From that came these fantastical creatures and things. So, I think that having a really human root, that’s really important.”
“What Ralph is 100-per cent right about is they only work, fantasy or superheroes, if it’s rooted in a realism of humanity,” Vaughn added. “That’s why I think why people like Star Wars. The first one was a really traditional story. You know, it wasn’t CGI-filled. It was a great balance of proper filmmaking, storytelling and fantastical. I liked the [Harry Potter films] because I just loved the books. And again, it was the fact it was set in a school and there was a boy who didn’t fit in and had to take the world on his shoulders. The magic was just a way of him dealing with it.”
In an interview with Gizmodo about The King’s Man, Vaughn and Fiennes weighed in on the rise in superhero films — and in Fiennes’ case why he’s largely refused to be part of it, with the exception of voicing Alfred Pennyworth in Lego Batman.
Vaughn has his share of experience in comic book and superhero films: He helmed Kick-Ass and X-Men: First Class, and wrote the sequel X-Men: Days of Future Past (he also co-produced the disastrous Fantastic Four, but we’re not gonna talk about that).
Fiennes noted how superhero stories have, in a sense, always been around — just look at Greek mythology. But they were mostly about the ways gods connected with regular people, a message that can sometimes get muddled in superhero films where the final 30 minutes are a string of giant CGI-fuelled battles.
Vaughn cited films like Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, even the recently released Joker, as comic book movies that make sure to keep their characters and stories grounded in humanity. It’s not always easy to do when you have characters with powers, but it’s not impossible. Just look at Harry Potter.
“When I did the X-Men I was trying to make these characters real — and you know, starting off a movie in a concentration camp is about as real as it gets. But then that’s your foundation and then you can build fantastical stuff on it,” Vaughn said. “You have to have something to relate to. Otherwise there are a lot of superhero films where they’re just whizzing around them blowing things up, and you get bored because you can’t relate to it.”
Then of course, you’ve got the Kingsman series. They may not have powers, but the heroes and villains in these stories (based on a graphic novel series) definitely have an element of superhero-ness to them.
Something that wasn’t lost on Fiennes, who noted how having The King’s Man prequel take place on the cusp of World War I gives it more of a weight and human connection... while still having sword fights with Rasputin.
“My take on this Kingsman is that it is entering in very different territory to the other two movies — in that the human dilemma at the centre of it gives it a gravitas, which I think is really compelling,” he said.
The King’s Man comes out February 13, 2020.