How Matthew Vaughn tricked Hollywood into making the war epic of his dreams
The King’s Man director tells Inverse why he made a WWI epic, why he’s done with Flash Gordon, and why he’s optimistic about the X-Men.
Matthew Vaughn doesn’t take movies lightly.
“For me to get involved in any IP that I don't own or control,” he tells Inverse. “I'm going to have to love the IP.”
A quick look at his IMDb might suggest otherwise. To be sure, Vaughn is a talented director and producer with such celebrated hits under his belt as Kingsman: The Secret Service, Kick-Ass, Layer Cake, and X-Men: First Class. But for every win, you’ll find an expensive misfire as well. (He produced both 2015’s Fantastic Four and Bloodshot, two huge superhero swings that failed spectacularly.)
And yet, Vaughn is as optimistic as ever — even if he’s learned a few lessons along the way. His latest, the World War I-era comic book prequel The King’s Man is heading into a competitive box office against Spider-Man and The Matrix with a lousy Rotten Tomatoes score of 45 percent, but the director is already planning ahead with a more traditional sequel set in the present.
“We're doing Kingsman 3,” he says. “We're gonna end off the Harry Eggsy relationship, that's all ready to go. We were gonna shoot it this year, but it's gonna have to be next year now.”
He’s also producing a handful of films, including Tetris, a historical drama about the creation and theft of the popular video game. “It's a really good Cold War fun thriller,” Vaughn says.
One movie he isn’t producing? Flash Gordon. The sci-fi remake has been in development hell for years.
“Nah, I'm out,” Vaugh says when asked if he’s still involved. “Elbowed out of it.”
“I really love Flash Gordon,” he continues. “But then I got involved with people that own and control the IP. And I think I loved it more than they did, to be honest. So again, it's going to sit in development hell. That's why I tend not to get involved in these projects. Nothing happens.”
Over Zoom, Vaugh discusses The King’s Man, Flash Gordon, the X-Men, and more.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Inverse: So maybe this is a dumb question, but why make a Kingsman prequel? And why set it during WWI?
Matthew Vaughn: Probably very selfish reasons. I rewatched a movie called The Man Who Would Be King, and it just reminded me why I fell in love with cinema: the epic, the storytelling, the characters, the humor, the pathos, the messaging. Afterward, I was like, “Why do people not make movies like this anymore?” And I joked that we should do The Man Who Would be Kingsman. That stayed in my head.
Then I started to get an itch to do an epic movie. But how the hell am I going to do an epic movie in this modern-day cinema minefield of trying to get anything off the ground unless you're flying through the air with a cape. But I remembered the scene in the first Kingsman of Harry Hart explaining to Eggsy how they were founded, and then this whole movie just exploded in my head.
Wow, so it’s almost like your Joker, a movie you really wanted to make disguised as something for mainstream audiences.
It's pretty funny you say that. I hadn't thought of it, but I fucking loved Joker. I was like, “How the hell did they get this film made?” That was all that was going through my mind when I was watching it. If I'm even 50% as good as Joker, I'll be happy. Everything that was great about '70s cinema was in that damn thing.
Ralph Fiennes is great in King’s Man, but it’s surprising to see him in such a lighthearted film. Was it hard to get him to make that switch?
Ralph is incredibly intelligent. A serious thespian, director, artiste. We would definitely come from a different spectrum of entertainment. I'm far more pop culture, he's real culture. So there was a moment of, "Oh boy could this work?" But he listened to me and I listened to him, and we found this middle ground really quickly.
“He’s incredibly physical.”
Deep down, he loves all that crap. He loves action movies. And the more I leaned into that, the happier he got. And then he would lean into me saying, "We've got to bring up this pathos." So it was really great collaboration. And he's incredibly physical. He had no problem doing the action at all.
So now that you’ve scratched this itch, are you interested in doing a proper Kingsman sequel?
Yes, after this, we're doing Kingsman 3. We're gonna end off the Harry-Eggsy relationship, That's all ready to go. We were gonna shoot it this year, but now It's gonna have to be next year now. I’d also love to continue these new King’s Man characters. I love them now and we all got on so well. Oxford, Polly, Shola, Archie Reid. Going off together will be a lot of fun.
What was the most difficult film scene to film in King’s Man?
Easily all the No Man's Land stuff. We built it for real. We all felt rather pathetic when we were complaining about how hard it was to film. This real this was real. Men and boys and soldiers were killed under the worst circumstances imaginable. It made me feel very sorry and grateful for the sacrifices way too many people made for the freedom we now have.
You’re also producing Tetris, which seems like a fun movie. What attracted you to that project?
You know, when I sent the script I was like, “This is the stupidest thing I've ever read.” And then I found out it's not about Tetris. Well, it's about Tetris, but it's not about the game. It's how the game was made and how the game was stolen from behind the Iron Curtain. It's a really good Cold War fun thriller.
“It’s going to sit in development hell. That's why I tend not to get involved in these projects.”
I also have to ask about Flash Gordon. There’s been a lot of ups and downs. Are you still attached?
Nah, I'm out. elbowed out of it.
Fair enough. Are you excited to see what happens? I know Taika Waititi has been circling the project.
I'm a big Flash Gordon fan. For me to get involved in any IP that I don't own or control, I'm going to have to love the IP. And I really love Flash Gordon. But then I got involved with people that own and control the IP, and I think I loved it more than they did, to be honest.
It's going to sit in development hell. That's why I tend not to get involved in these projects. Because nothing happens. Everyone's just sitting around talking about, "Maybe it should be this. What about that?" Like, guys, by the time you've discussed it, we could have shot the film. So yeah, Flash Gordon, God help it.
Alright, final question: You directed X-Men: First Class, which is arguably the best X-Men movie ever made. Do you have any advice for Marvel Studios as it reboots the franchise?
Well, the good news is that I worked with Mr. Feige for a little bit on X-Men 3, and I can say it's in good hands. The conversations we had when I was working on X3, he was my ally back then. So you don't need to worry. X-Men in Kevin's hands? Everyone's gonna have a good ride.
The King’s Man is in theaters now.