How English is "The King's Man?" So English that the biggest musical flourish in the score is reserved for a scene in which someone decides whether to have a cup of tea.

It's a prequel to the "Kingsman" movies that starred Taron Egerton and Samuel L. Jackson but it's best to forget about them since this one takes place more than half a century earlier. It purports to chart the development of the secret spy agency depicted in the gleefully bloody London-set "Kingsman" films, connecting early-20th-century events such as the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the Russian reign of terror of Rasputin and trench warfare in World War I.

Individual moments in "King's Man" are fun. There's an old-fashioned, Indiana Jones quality to scenes in which Ralph Fiennes, as a pioneer of the Kingsman, fences with villains or hangs off the side of a cliff or discovers secret passageways. I particularly like the touch of an evil genius whose face, for reasons that ultimately pay off in a satisfying way, is hidden for almost the whole movie.

That stuff sits awkwardly next to the sometimes cartoonish, sometimes grisly violence that pops up throughout "King's Man," though. Of course the front lines of World War I were gruesome but "King's Man" tries to be glib and lighthearted in one scene, then mournful in the next; 007 in one scene, "Schindler's List" in the next. And it doesn't work.

Fiennes is elegant and charming throughout "King's Man," unflappable in the face of perils that would flap anybody else, but his light touch often seems to be in the wrong movie. Much of the time, "King's Man" is graphic and brutal in a way that feels like — sorry — overkill.

'The King's Man'

** out of 4 stars

Rated: R for bloody violence, language and sexual situations.

Where: Area theaters.