Anticipation: 3/5 Matthew Vaughn‘s movies are an acquired taste. Layer Cake was fun as was Kick-Ass. Stardust is definitely underrated, but X-Men: First Class … meh. Kingsman: The Secret Service doesn’t seem to want to take itself too seriously and that may be its appeal.
Final Verdict: 5/5 Vaughn’s commentary on the excesses of today’s society raises the appeal of Kingsman to classic film status. A masterpiece for all the reasons you are not expecting!
If Roger Moore’s Bond movies were saturated with rabid violence, then no one would have ever been to watch Kingsman. Fans of the comic book series may be irked at the changes (and there are many) made by director/screenwriter Matthew Vaughn and his co-screenwriter Jane Goldman, but the basic narrative remains the same. Vaughn, however, pushes the violence envelope so far that the audience can practically taste the brutality whilst grinning ear to ear. Although Kingsman is more of a pastiche of spy movies than a spoof of the James Bond series itself, the references to Jason Bourne (movies ranked by Den of Geek here), Jack Bauer and even to the Harry Palmer series shoulder the overbearing presence of Bond and fashion wonderful metatheatricality.
Based on the comic book by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons, Kingsman: The Secret Service is Gary ‘Eggsy’ Unwin’s (Taron Egerton) coming-of-age story. Harry ‘Galahad’ Hart (Colin Firth), a spy who works for the sophisticated Kingsman organization, recruits Eggsy, an unrefined, mischievous ruffian, who is the son of a former agent, to thwart the sinister plan of a billionaire industrialist named Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson). Eggsy must first complete the Kingsman spy training before he truly understands that “manners maketh man.”
Kingsman finds Matthew Vaughn in master mode. Unlike the most recent big budget sci-fi, superhero and young adult movies, past science fiction fantasy films as social commentary have had the decency of hiding their messages behind metaphor. Kingsman: The Secret Service honors that tradition. The film’s pulse is just right for its commentary on present day’s excesses. There are two very apparent red flags that signal the excess theme in Kingsman: a reference to Ronald Reagan’s Star Wars project and a reference to Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. The former deals with billions of dollars injected into what was called the Strategic Defense Initiative, a space anti-missile system that would prevent attacks from Soviet ICBM’s. Reagan’s project was a shining beacon of excesses caused by the paranoia engulfing 80’s society. The latter red flag is when a mother tries to commit filicide, unsuccessfully, trying to reach her daughter who is locked in a bathroom by breaking down the door. The scene acts as microcosm to the larger theme of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, a film that demonstrates the excesses of the mass genocides in American history.
The excesses of today range from so many different spheres that it would be tedious to name them all. From society at large to global warming to the entertainment industry all the way down to social media: each is a topic for debate with regards to excess. Kingsman raises the question: is fighting excess with excess the best solution? Bill Hicks once called humanity “a virus with shoes,” and apparently Kingsman‘s antagonist Valentine admired that statement. So much so, he has decided to come up with a solution for global warming: mass homicide. Valentine’s plan may come off as folderol in the end, but it actually causes one to ponder whether you agree with what Valentine is saying. I caught myself thinking that his method may be unethical, but it is efficient. Could that be the solution?
Furthermore, the excesses movie genres generate makes it hard to come up with new ideas. Kingsman lodges itself into the spy genre by referencing it ad nauseam, but drags in the superhero and young adult genres along with it. There are 23 Bond movies with another in production right now, 6 Harry Palmer movies, 4 Bourne’s with another on the way, a Mission: Impossible TV series and 4 films with another on the way, 8 seasons of Jack Bauer in 24, not to mention a made for TV movie (Redemption) an additional mini-series and the possibility for another in the near future. In the superhero genre, Marvel Comics’ first phase started with character origin stories, which the first half of Kingsman deals with. Marvel is now entering its third phase, as DC comics enters its first. The recent popularity of young adult adaptations is steadily gaining momentum. The Twilight movies generated interest in the Hunger Games and The Mortal Instruments now Divergent and the Maze Runner. All the movies deal with teens that think they are either worthless or come from underprivileged parts of society, similar to Eggsy in Kingsman. I’ll spare you the list of fairy tale adaptations of late because I think you get the picture.
Kingsman gives itself the privilege of pointing out that it now takes part in the excess and the only way it sees fit to dealing with its own existence is by generating excess that borders parody. At a dinner with Valentine, Harry Hart’s statement that new-generation spy movies have become too serious is a jab that they all harbor an all or nothing mentality, a mentality that has been echoed in society for quite sometime now. Anti-terrorist statements in the media such as “if you aren’t with us, you are against us,” or even the rather juvenile “if you mess with one of us, you mess with all of us” statement from the bridge sequence in Spider-man (2002) come to mind. Kingsman exploits the all or nothing statement to a maximum. If a punch is given, teeth fly; if a button is pressed, heads explode; if the protagonist rescues the imprisoned princess, she does anal.
In somewhat Dickensian fashion, Kingsman also deals with the excesses of the so-called 1% in society and how, in pursuit of personal satisfaction, they look down on or try to exploit the naiveté of the remainder of society. Valentine caters to the mass population’s appeal in Steve Jobs style. He does not come off as a tycoon, but rather as man about town who chooses to use his philanthropy as a means of gaining the trust of the masses. He is anything but. The excess pride of the 1% and their reliance on money as a symbol of social status is called into question. Valentine and Eggsy become the middle ground where both spheres of society, the haves and have-nots, meet. Eggsy is training to be a gentleman, but his commoner’s upbringing remains useful. Case in point, much to Harry and Merlin’s (Mark Strong) wonderment, Eggsy is aware that Valentine is giving a Ted-talks-like speech on a social media site about a new product he is offering for free. In this sequence, Vaughn suggests two things: first that the way to get society’s attention is to exploit what they give away for free, namely themselves via social media sites; and second that certain parts of the 1% are so far disconnected (literally in this case), that they remain oblivious to what is going on in the world if they haven’t received an invite. Valentine is part of the 1% but he knows how to navigate the lower echelons of society, whereas Eggsy is part of the lower echelons and, by the time Valentine’s plan is put into effect, he knows how to navigate the 1%’s tier. What happens when extremes collide? Mushroom cloud explosions and lots of blood.
Vaughn deliberately pushes the schemes and the violence to their most extreme. He wants the audience to question whether fighting fire with fire is the best solution and he answers that question in the final third of the film. Most critics claim that by the third act, Kingsman has run out of steam. But that’s the point. Vaughn shows that by pushing everything to the limit, the eventuality can only be a stalemate.
Now, all seriousness aside, there is plenty of fun in the movie to cater to the fans of the comic book and Bond aficionados alike.
Kingsman’s basic plot is essentially taken from Moonraker, a 1979 James Bond film, starring Roger Moore, where a billionaire industrialist tries to commit global homicide. Bond goes to space and fights one of his most famous nemeses, Jaws, before heading underwater to face the true villain, Drax. In Kingsman, Gazelle (Sofia Boutella) shines in true Bond villain fashion as Valentine’s sidekick. Her elegant high-heels have more than one man fall for her. In addition, one of the most pleasant instances of the film has Jack Davenport, who plays Lancelot, do his best impression of George Lazenby’s Bond, from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, defending Professor Arnold (Mark Hamill) from expendable goons. Mark Hamill’s presence is a pleasant tongue-in-cheek reference to those who have read the comic book.
Taron Egerton shines as Eggsy. A relative no-name that will surely paint the silver screen many times again in the near future. But Kingsman truly belongs to Colin Firth. Firth is the epitome of gentlemanliness and he is a pleasure to watch as Harry Hart. I hope to be in as good a shape he’s in at 54 years old… He was once pipped to be the next James Bond. As he finds his range between the suave of Sean Connery, the humor of Roger Moore and the lethal effectiveness of Daniel Craig, Firth shows that he wouldn’t have disappointed.
The violence in Kingsman may be excessive, but as discussed, that was the point. Do not get the wrong impression by thinking it was too much. The violence was perfect in terms of stylized execution and dosage. Kingsman is a great shoot’em up action fest packed with laughs at every corner.
Even though the basic plot of Millar’s and Gibbons’ series is at the heart of the movie, all of the extraordinary gentlemen and all of the good intentions packed into the script may make most critics believe that Kingsman: The Secret Service is playing out of its league. I’m here to tell you that it is not. If you’re looking for a good time, you’ve found the place, but if you are looking to turn off your brain, well… to me… this isn’t that kind of movie.
Kingsman: The Secret Service trailer