Made In Britain: Kingsman
Well, colour me surprised. After the terminally shit Kick Ass and Kick Ass 2, and the less than wholly whelming (to put it mildly) X: Men prequel, I’d written Matthew Vaughan off as someone that had it once, lost it, and cannae get it back. As such, and given that Kingsman was from a funnybook by Mark Millar, I had the film also written off as another lame Bond spoof along the lines of Jonny English. Except, given Millar’s involvement, probably more unpleasant. Imagine my surprise, when it proved to be quite entertaining and a highly watchable, albeit flawed, film- so much better than I thought it was going to be.
Harry Palmer Gentlemen Spies and spoilers below
Kingsman: The Secret Service is an elite group of agents operating at above government level, so as to be unburdened by the limits of bureaucracy. Star Agent “Galahad”, Harry (Colin Firth), has a bit of a guilt complex regarding unremarkable chav Eggsy (Taron Egerton), as he feels responsible for the death of Eggsy’s father. As such, he recruits Eggsy to the Kingsman initiation programme. In the meantime, nefarious villain Valentine(a hugely annoying Samuel L. Jackson), has concocted a typically Bond Villain-esque plan to eliminate the majority of the human race for the good of the environment. Shenanigans ensue.
I find myself torn on this one. On one hand, it’s highly, highly likable, yet on the other Kingsman is kind of smug and referential. I might even go as far as saying, heaven forbid, that it’s desperately trying to be meta. The entire film is played with a nod and a wink at the audience as it messes with the conventions of spy films that we all know and love. Particularly egregious is the sequence with Firth and Jackson having dinner where they even discuss their espionage cinema preferences.
Egerton is good, in fact, I’d almost say he’s great as Eggsy. Plays the likely lad chav aspect of it with a real twinkle in his eye, and seems to be having an absolute blast in the role. He’s a find, this lad, and definitely in the Jack O’Conner one to watch bracket. Firth, channeling Michael Caine, is on great form too, and there’s a wealth of decent cameos, including one from Mark Hamill. Caine, incidentally, appears in the film and seems to be almost ringing it in. Across the board, actually, the acting from everyone, from veterans such as Mark Strong to unknowns such as Sophie Cookson is generally spot on. With the notable exception of Samuel L. Jackson’s excruciating turn.
At one point, Jackson and Firth discuss that a Spy movie is only as good as the villain. Thankfully, they’re wrong, as if this was the case, then Kingsman would be fucking terrible. Jackson, frankly, sucks. The character is overwritten to the point of archness, and why Jackson decided to make this worse by adding an annoying lisp to the performance is a question best pointed at Matthew Vaughan.
The plot as mentioned above is intentionally overblown and silly- it’s a variation on the classic Bond supervillain plot, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, seeing as the last few dour and shit Bond outings had villains with no scope to their evil- Skyfall, for example, was just another “revenge on MI6” gig a la countless other films (Goldeneye leaping to mind) with an extra dose of mummy issues thrown in. At least Valentine wants to kill millions of people using advanced technology, which makes a nice change from most modern spy films.
Then there’s the violence. Holy fuck is this film violent. The stand out set piece of the movie is probably the church sequence, where the body count rises to simply alarming levels, all brutally offed. I’m not squeamish when it comes to violence, not at all, but I found the way this scene was filmed with the combination of douchebag tricks and unnecessary slow motion etc off putting and overly stylised, an accusation you could aim at much of the film from script level upwards. In fact (and I’ve now seen it twice as I’ve been staring at this review for so long I ended up having to rewatch the movie), I’d say this scene is meant to be the calling card of the entire film, but is actually the most off putting and irritating section of the whole movie.
All in all, I’m about done here. Kingsman is an OK film. At times, it borders on highly entertaining (almost all of the training sequences), and it plays out in a pleasingly light and colourful way, but it is one that is hugely flawed on many levels. Nonetheless, this is easily Vaughan’s best film since Stardust, and shits all over practically every other film that I’ve seen this year. Do I recommend it? yes, at a pinch, but in comparison to the other summer movies, it’s an absolute stormer. However, at the end of the day, it’s only an OK movie- and that’s more of an indictment of the rest of the shite released in 2015 than anything else. It’s worth noting that my opinion of Kingsman has actually benefited from seeing utter shite like Avengers 2, and Mad Max Fury Road, but I’m not convinced that this makes it an actual “good” film. Nevertheless, have it’s approved, albeit cautiously and with reservations.
Incidentally, I know this is unlikely to happen, but when Craig hangs up the tux, I’d like them to retire Mendes and give Vaughan the Bond job- he’d at least bring back some levity and entertainment to what has become an increasingly dour and joyless franchise.
PS- As mentioned above, I’ve seen this twice now and the version I’ve got doesn’t have the tasteless gag about the Princess in it. Given what I’ve heard about the joke, I’d find this “edited” version if I were you.
Next time out is one of the 3 best films of 2015 so far: Ex_Machina- which proves, finally, that Garland doesn’t always have to have a 3rd act meltdown.