The best parts of King of Killers are also the most frustrating – hinting at a better, more interesting movie that might have been.
For clarification’s sake, the movie isn’t terrible. It has some solid moments, even some borderline great ones, but it aspires to be more – or to at least start a story it doesn’t – and may never – get to finish.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been a fan of Kevin Grevioux’s work, both comics and film for years now. Unfortunately, for every adaptation that works (Underworld), there’s more that don’t (I, Frankenstein).
I haven’t read the graphic novel King of Killers serves as a sort of prequel to, so I can’t judge how well Grevioux, er, not-quite-adapted his work, but I wish he’d just jumped in to make the actual story he’d told before – which was originally planned as a limited TV show, or so the story went in 2022.
Unfortunately, unless you’re part of the Marvel machine, or, I guess, Zack Snyder at Netflix, it’s a hard sell to do a prequel to something that doesn’t exist yet, at least in celluloid form. And make no mistake, that’s exactly what King of Killers attempts to do.
The Plot We've Seen Before
The film opens with martial arts star and stunt phenom Alain Moussi playing Marcus Garan – a government assassin who’s the best at what he does. Imagine a U.S.-sanctioned Wolverine, sans claws – a one man black ops team. He completes his mission, then goes home to his lovely wife and daughter, who he converses with in French and English. As these things go, it’s a well-executed setup. We know – feel – the family is loving and wonderful and nearly perfect. Of course, it won’t stay that way.
Garan gets a new assignment, the evening of his wedding anniversary. His boss – underplayed excellently by Stephen Dorff – insists they have to do the job. So Garan heads to his assignment, hoping to wrap things up in time for dinner with his wife, Karla (Amy Groening).
Meanwhile, she gets a mysterious text and shows up at the club where he’s headed for the execution, no pun intended, of his latest job. She spots him and tries to follow him. He does the job, but things so south fast. Ignoring the fact that a card table provides almost no protection against most firearms discharge, he manages to complete the assignment. The door opens and there’s Karla – an apparent victim of crossfire.
She dies and Garan is left to raise his daughter more or less solo – Karla’s mom moves in. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, he tries to investigate Karla’s death, with resources from the organization he’s now resigned from.
That's a Twist?
Out of the blue, he’s contacted about joining a new mission – sort of. The greatest assassin to ever live needs to be taken out and Garan is offered the chance at a lot of money (that his daughter suddenly needs) to join the hunt for the most mythical assassin ever. In true Hero's Journey form, he rejects the call, only to have the caller be very insistent, bending over backwards to get Garan interested in the adventure – or competition – or mission?
It’s all very vague and only gets more complicated as he competes/teams up with other international assassins. They hate each other and want to win, but must work together? Oh, and one of them may or may not have had a sexual relationship with Garan in the past.
There are a few twists and turns – but nothing really more than you’d expect from a standard action film. The man who hires them to kill Drakos, the best assassin there is, the Kaiser Soze of killers, IS Drakos – Frank Grillo, showing us why Marvel made him Crossbones.
Grevioux (who also directed this outing) and Moussi provide plenty of bone crunching, gut punching, martial arts panache you’d expect. Sadly, a couple of the best of the best assassins are way too easily dispatched. The competition doesn’t get truly good action-wise until Grevioux, playing Dyson Chord, takes his turn at the King.
But again, this is all prequel. The real story – even the details originally dropped to the press for the film – “follows a group of international spies and assassins as they search for The Source, a sinister organization causing chaos across the globe.”
While King of Killers was never going to be an awards contender, I really wish it had just focused on delivering a well-made action film, the kind you’re pleasantly surprised to find on Tubi. Instead, we get to see the fun action, only to learn at the end, that it’s only the beginning. The competition was a test for Garan, and now not only will he learn who got his wife killed his wife, but a little of the why – and can’t you wait for the TV show?
All Fall Down
The action of King of Killers delivers about 75/25. It’s not John Wick, but it’s also not Street Fighter. Sadly, given Grevioux’s pedigree, it’s the story that detracts most from the experience of the film. Grillo, Moussi and Grevioux all stand out, performance wise, better fighters than actors, but still delivering. Stephen Dorff is little more than a cameo in the film, but I’m guessing figures strongly in the TV show, which is all I can say without spoilers.
Watch it for the action, but don’t go holding your breath for the sequel/franchise/TV continuation. Sadly, it doesn’t quite earn it.
Rating: 5/10 SPECS.
King of Killers releases on DVD and Blu Ray October 31st.