New Review of Kingsman: The Secret Service!
The opinions expressed in the following review of Kingsman: The Secret Service, do not necessarily reflect those of AtomicMoo.com, its staff, or its sponsors, even though they should. Also, Atomic Moo doesn’t have any sponsors, or opinions, or opinions about sponsors.
You’re in your seat, the house lights go down, logos come up, and sometimes, you get that feeling. You get that impression, deep down and early on, that the movie you’re about to see will unforgivingly suck. Other times, the movie starts with Middle Eastern insurgents listening to a Dire Straits tape on a boombox when British operatives air raid their fortified castle with helicopters and explosives, all while Money for Nothing continues to play over the opening titles. In those rare moments, you know you are in for a treat. Director Matthew Vaughn’s latest, Kingsman: The Secret Service, is one of those treats. An espionage action comedy described as “Tarantino meets Bond,” the movie is based on a comic by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons which I’d never heard of but sounds like something I should check out. That being said, Vaughn previously adapted Millar’s comic miniseries Kick-Ass to the big screen, defecating all over the original work and missing its point entirely, turning a self-aware tale of inept socially-maladjusted fools with delusions of grandeur into some kind of teen comedy that made me cringe so hard I nearly required medical attention.
I’m not familiar with the comic, other than what little I’ve read about it for the purpose of this review, but it seems like Kingsman is loosely inspired by the comic, rather than straight-up retlling it. Characters’ names, relationships, sexes, and titles have been changed, and if Kick-Ass is any indication, the movie might be more tolerable if you haven’t read and enjoyed the book. But having gone in without any expectations, I was in for a ride.
Manliness incarnate, Colin Firth (which rhymes with “girth,” I might add) plays British super spy Harry Hart, codename Galahad. He is a member of the top-secret order of Kingsmen, the modern equivalent of the Knights of the Round Table. Dapper gentlemen with lady killing manners and sophistication, plus deadly man killing gadgets hidden in their attire and accessories. When a mission goes sour due to a mistake on Galahad’s part, a Kingsman sacrifices himself to save the lives of his colleagues. Owing that man a life debt, Agent Hunt personally looks into the matter when the late Kingsman’s son, having grown into a young man, is arrested for a rather entertaining crime.
Known by his nickname, Eggsy isn’t a bad kid, but doesn’t belong to the upper-class high society that Galahad does. He’s a street punk, a chav, not a gentlemen. Indebted to the boy’s father, Galahad takes him under his wing and recruits him into the dangerous-but-dapper world of the Kingsmen.
Naturally, there’s more going on than just some low-class bloke getting a suit and tie. Kingsmen are being killed, the world’s elite is going missing, and the two are probably not unrelated. While Mark Strong trains new recruits as the tough-but-fair tech guy Merlin, the secret service’s leader, the sophisticated gentleman known as Arthur (played by the legendary Sir Michael Caine) aims to once again save the world.
What would an intentionally Bond-esque film be without a Bond villain? Samuel L. Jackson hams it up perfectly as Valentine, a billionaire philanthropist tech industry genius who hatches a plan to save the world, by making a portion of the world’s population kill each other. With a team of wealthy celebrities and powerful politicians to rely on, and right-hand-henchman lady with prosthetic sword legs, it will take a hell of a team to crack the case and stop the bad guy in time for tea.
Action-packed and full of laughs, Kingsman: The Secret Service makes no attempt to hide the material that inspired it, or the team’s love of said material. James Bond is mentioned by name, on more than one occasion, and characters even talk about the character’s classic spy movies. There are occasional but usually subtle nods to other movies that starred the Kingsman cast members. Fight scenes are deliberately fast-paced to demonstrate the Kingmen’s skills and agility, and usually end with a laugh or two. Dialogue is sharp and at times quite funny, but humor gets in the way later on in the movie. Tonally inconsistent, the story begins as a rather grounded, dialogue-heavy dramatic piece, barring a few over-the-top action scenes. By the end, it is almost as if it is a whole other movie entirely. The pacing picks up, there is much more action, fast cutting, extreme camera angles, use of slow-motion, cursing, violence, gore, sex, and other good things of that vein, but it feels more like a bionic-leg-assisted jump to that extreme pacing than a steady build-up. Of course, the sudden change of pacing could just as easily been completely deliberate, to demonstrate the switch between generations of Kingsmen, as the new recruits are featured prominently in the climactic battle.
On the topic of juxtaposition, the movie handles the gap between Britain’s low-class chav football hooligan blokes and high-society sophisticated Oxbridge old-money ponces in a plausible way. Eggsy doesn’t come from a wealthy family (even though his father must have since he was a Kingsman). Galahad firmly believes that being a gentleman isn’t a matter of social class, but of learned manners. With a bit of training and a trip to the tailor, street punk Eggsy becomes a dapper gentleman, at which point he blends both the upper-class and lower-class worlds. He has the advantage, therefore, of spy training as well as underhanded street criminal tactics, possibly giving him an edge that his Kingman predecessors would not have had.
It is not without issues, mind you. The aforementioned tonal inconsistency is not the only flaw. Several glaring plot holes are present, such as the Kingsmen not mind-wiping recruits who flunk out of the training program. Furthermore, in its (largely successful) attempt to be so-British, the movie seems to adopt an anti-American point of view, which isn’t entirely unwarranted, mind you. The lead villain, an unstoppable, powerful, wealthy American business genius has international politicians in his pocket, and most of the world uses his technology. Technology which, big surprise, could spell certain doom for the planet.
What is the counter for American socioeconomic/technological Manifest Destiny, the film suggests? Why, the British Empire, of course. Not that that’s necessarily worse, but it’s basically swapping one white-man Superpower for another. The US/UK rivalry goes even further. In one particularly memorable and deeply satisfying action scene, British agent Galahad finds himself locked in literally-bloody do-or-die battle with at least fifty redneck American hatemongering cultists. Is the British way really the answer, when the film itself showcases the UK’s deeply-seeded classism, a system where people are discriminated against (perhaps rightfully so, but that’s a different story) due to their regional accents? I suppose this happens in the States, too, but you get what I mean. Maybe I’m reading too much into it.
Despite its shortcomings and ooh-ra rock-and-roll tryhard tonal shift towards the end, Kingsman: The Secret Service is an overall enjoyable action/comedy experience, with great acting, plenty of humour, and some downright feel-good moments. Just don’t go in expecting anything of intellectual value, or with reverence for the source material.
This movie review is provided by Atomic Moo’s designated Canadian, Baron Hershel J. Septimus Percival Numbers, MCCCXXXVIIth Lord of Girthforshire, Esq.
Check out the Red Band trailer for the film below!