Well, I wasn’t sure if I could do it, but I did, you guys: I enjoyed KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE. Although I have this idea of director Matthew Vaughn as an overhyped Friend of the Internet, when I look at his filmography it’s really only KICK-ASS that I have a beef with. But since KINGSMAN is the director and writers of KICK-ASS adapting from another comic from the same guy that did KICK-ASS you can see why it would be a concern.
Eggsy (Taron Egerton) is a young British man of drinking age. His dad died in Iraq when he was a kid, his mom has an abusive asshole boyfriend, he hangs out at the pub with his friends, gets in fights, doesn’t have a job. This could be the beginning of another GREEN STREET sequel, but when he gets busted for stealing some asshole’s car it’s not a soccer fan club that helps him out, it’s a stranger who claims to be a friend of his dad.
Little did Eggsy know that his father was in a secret society of highly skilled, well-financed super-spies working independently of any government. This guy who helps him, code named Galahad (Colin Firth, THE KING’S PEACH), says he owes Eggsy’s dad for saving his life. Galahad notices Eggsy’s squandered potential (he quit the Marines as well as an Olympics-bound gymnastics career) and decides to recruit him to try out for their organization. But it’s a tough audition. It’s kinda like trying out for the SEALs but only one person gets to join.
Right away he doesn’t fit in. He’s competing against guys from rich families with names like “Digby.” They all wear nice suits and talk about their days at Oxford and shit, he comes in dressed kinda like Ali G. They all seem to know what’s going on and what to expect, he has no clue what the fuck is up. He’s Harry Potter.
Of course this is a play on James Bond and The Avengers (British tv show) and stuff. There is some meta-dialogue (not too bad) indicating that the filmatists are trying to bring back the fun, goofy spy shit like the old days. So they have gadgets and an underground lair and they don’t pretend to be gritty or especially realistic. There’s an elitist supergenius madman (Samuel L. Jackson) with a disability (if a lisp counts as a disability). His sinister plan involves implants, SIM cards, satellites and thinning the population.
The Kingsman group has a King Arthur theme for their code names, but mostly they’re just about proper Britishness. Their front is a tailor shop and when they graduate they get bulletproof “bespoke” suits and weapons hidden inside umbrellas and pens and stuff. So Eggsy gets kind of a makeover, but I like how he’s specifically told that he can still talk like himself and be a gentleman. He looks slick but he doesn’t have to hide his lower class background.
During training each recruit has to pick a puppy to take care of. Eggsy thinks he’s picking one that’s gonna grow up into a vicious bulldog, because he doesn’t know what a pug is. So he has some things to learn. But he does know how to do flips and stuff already, that helps.
Those of you who don’t like computers or technology to be used in your action scenes will throw up constantly throughout the movie. There’s not a fight choreographer credited, but the stunt coordinator/second unit director Bradley James Allan also did second unit for SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD and THE WORLD’S END, and there’s definitely a similarity in style there, so I’m gonna give him the credit. There are a number of extremely stylized and cartoonish action sequences that I think are well done. To be honest I don’t really understand how they were even accomplished, but there is definitely alot of speeding up of footage and digitally stitching things together to seem like they were done in one shot. Also there are clearly plenty of real stunts, with Firth having to learn a bunch of moves and Egerton doing an underwater scene kinda like the one in ALIEN RESURRECTION.
Firth battles his way through a bar of hooligans or the entire congregation of a racist church performing complex choreography, with every movement he makes leading to a different blow. He throws things with the hook of his umbrella, hooks people’s arms and legs, flips and tosses them, sometimes going the extra mile to, for example, throw them against something so that we see their spine crush and bend.
Also Jackson’s character Valentine has a Bond-style henchwoman named Gazelle (Sofia Boutella) who is an acrobatic martial artist with metal prosthetic legs sharp enough to bisect a human. We never find out much about her and in my opinion what she’s doing is wrong but also I think I have a bit of a crush on her. Maybe I could change her.
There is a showstopper of a scene that for me makes the movie. I had heard something about it but I didn’t really know the context. Skip two paragraphs if you don’t want to know. It’s the scene where Galahad goes to investigate a hate-spewing church linked to Valentine’s operation, and while he’s there Valentine activates his system that causes everyone in the church to turn violent and uninhibited. And then there is a long, seemingly uninterrupted scene of this highly skilled warrior in a nice suit fighting through this crowd until every single one of them is dead. It’s kind of a great scene because it really is having the cake and eating the cake also. For sure it’s a gleeful exploitation of over-the-top violence, but when it’s all over – to me anyway – Galahad seems tainted. We know that he didn’t do it willingly, he was not in control – which brings up the whole Rambo issue that if you’re trained to kill you’re gonna end up killing – but still, having this much blood on his hands, you have to question if he can really still be the hero. Or at least I did.
And then SPOILER all the sudden he gets killed. I know it’s pretty standard Ben Kenobi shit for the mentor to die off and the student has to take charge, but I was put off balance by the extremeness of him turning into a mass murderer in the previous scene. And I liked this character. It caught me off guard.
I guess I have to mention the most controversial part, since it seems to be the only aspect anyone wants to talk about. At the end there’s a joke where a princess (Hanna Alström), who has been imprisoned by the bad guys, offers Eggsy butt sex as a reward for rescuing her and saving the world. I mean, I don’t know how to get mad on this one. On one hand obviously it’s a ridiculous porno-esque male fantasy, presented bluntly to parody the innuendo of a James Bond movie. On the other hand it’s very clearly consensual and enthusiastic. Aren’t we supposed to be against “slut-shaming” now, or does that not apply when it’s fiction?
(Of course Vaughn didn’t help by referring to “bloody feminists” when commenting on the controversy.)
It’s definitely a male-oriented movie in the same way that that Bond movies are. But it’s worth noting that one of the crucial supporting characters, Roxy (Sophie Cookson), holds her own while trying out for Kingsman without having to be a sex object or love interest. (I guess she’s Hermione.) She doesn’t just match Eggsy in the testing, she beats him. And although she does it through cold-heartedness, being willing to do something horrible that he couldn’t, the movie doesn’t slander her for this. She’s the actual new Kingsman, he just ends up helping by default. In the climax, admittedly, she doesn’t get to do all the cool fighting. But she does get the more spectacular and harrowing job of floating into the upper atmosphere on a balloon, firing a missile at a satellite and then plummeting back to earth. The movie respects her.
KINGSMAN works pretty well on a level that’s kind of rare: purposely ridiculous, but serious. Not a comedy. I would count it as an actual spy/action movie, though obviously a cartoonish digital age version of the form. I thought it was a pretty fun time.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.