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Kingsman: The Secret Service


Now that's not something you see every day, at least, not on
a day you get to survive

dir: Matthew Vaughn


Damn, I’m getting old.

There was a time when something like this would have been like sweet, sweet crack to me. I would have embraced its charms and indulged its weaknesses in the pursuit of an action high otherwise rarely approached.

But for some reason, many reasons, while I enjoyed parts of this James Bond update, I couldn’t help but feel that it was, to use the technical film school term, pretty fucking dreadful.

The Bond template is not a rarely used one, in fact, there are probably thousands of films bouncing around in your memory that used the formula. In its purest form, though, it’s still fairly generic. The difference here is that it’s paired with the adolescent wish fulfilment only Mark Millar can come up with. It also produces a vision of Britishness so arch and so unbelievable that it amazes me that the director is a Brit and that Millar, who originally wrote the shitty comic this is based on, is a Scot.

They conjure a vision of Britain less grounded in reality and less believable than the Harry Potter films.

The only reason I can account for that is their presumed intention to have this go over big with American audiences, for whom the stereotypical images of Britain are enough to be convincing. You know, mention Big Ben, show some Beefeaters, mention the queen and have a few mugs talking in Cockney so strained and overdone that Eliza Doolittle would have trouble understanding them, and you’ve got yourself a movie!

Millar has been responsible for a few other repellent comics that have resulted in terrible movies. The mostly forgotten Wanted set the stage: in that flick a put-upon nobody finds out (through no accident of his birth) that he’s secretly part of a super secret league of assassins called The Fraternity that takes their orders from a giant loom. This actually happened, I’m not making it up. Hijinks ensue.

In Kick-Ass a nobody decides to put on a costume and fight crime. Hijinks ensue only because other far more skilled people do most of the fighting. Hijinks ensue.

In Kingsman: The Secret Service, a nobody (Taron Egerton) finds that through no accident of his birth, he’s actually heir to a seat at the table of a super secret organisation that travels the world updating James Bond clichés. Hijinks do and do not ensue.

The not-so-secret weapon of this flick is not the strange assassin with very impractical blades for feet that features prominently in the ads or the posters; it’s Colin Firth. Colin Firth is a great and lovely man, beloved by grandmothers, gay men, maiden aunts and construction workers. I hope he got a hefty packet o’money for starring in this and delivering all of his dialogue as if he’s slightly peeved, as a reward for winning an Oscar for The King’s Speech and for karmic payback for enduring those Bridget Jones movies. He is the main face of the film, though not, apparently, the main character.

In Bond films and their parodies, Bond is already Bond: suave, predatory towards women, adept at getting out of sticky situations using cool wit, violence and gadgetry, and always the winner at the end of the day. In this, one must become a Bond before they can be a Bond.

Firth’s character is already a Bond, except he looks more like an accountant. These gentleman spies, calling themselves Kingsmen, all wear bespoke suits and nerdy glasses that are actually high tech gadgets themselves. Though clearly Bond-like, they’re more akin to Patrick McNee’s John Steed from The Avengers television series more so than 007, at least in their sartorial choices.

Much is made, since the other fundamental conflict in the story is that between snobs and slobs, of the idea, espoused by Harry, that a gentleman isn’t born a gentleman; it’s a conscious choice to better oneself. So these incredibly pale scions of wealthy dynasties, who created their own personal secret service completely separate from the Crown or the government, with no oversight from anyone other than Michael Caine, basically gets to act as a very polite enforcer of English pride AND prejudice around the globe.

Anyone foresee any problems with that? Yes? No? Jolly good, toodle pip and all that.

You can draw conclusions as to what these doyens of etiquette and deportment really represent. I’m not going to nail my colours to the mast and claim this flick is advocating, like I read in a couple of reviews, a right wing nutjob fantasy of how things would be better in the world if a group of white short-back-and-sides types in glasses killed everyone we thought of as threats. I don’t think it’s really going for that.

Considering the villain, and the villain’s motivation, and how it all ends up playing out, you could just as readily argue that it’s a technocratic solution to a technocratic problem. Or is it that tired of there being no progress on arresting climate change, a billionaire genius (Samuel L. Jackson, adopting a pronounced lisp and the look of Spike Lee, for some reason) comes up with a solution that only a billionaire who really, really cares about the environment could come up with?

Maybe I could have seen this as a fascist masturbatory fantasy (like all of Millar’s stuff) up until the first of the most distasteful and really strange moments occurs at a weird church discounting this reading of it. It’s a weird ultra conservative church all right, where the preacher preaches hate against all the people these churches generally hate, and Harry gets to deliver possibly the funniest and oddest line of the film.

What happens next, though, is pretty inexplicably awful. However bizarre I found that shift into ultraviolence, as one of the main characters then starts killing all the churchgoers, you could hardly claim the screenplay is aiming for a rightwing stance when its alleged advocates are so brutally slaughtered.

That scene is… problematic. I really didn’t get it. Were we meant to feel like those dicks deserved what happened to them? The way it’s put together, and considering who’s doing it, it left me very confused as to what the hell the audience was meant to take away from the experience.

Eggsy, as a protagonist, I guess is okay, but he never really gets to shine until the last section of the flick. The way it’s all structured, really, left a lot to be desired. If the film is in three parts, that middle part, where Eggsy is being trained to be a Kingsman / competing for a place against the toffs and knobs, is deathly, deathly dull. The best character in the flick, Harry, is also in some coma during this section for no good reason, and thus interest waned until he came back.

Jackson as the villain plays it somewhat differently from how he usually plays these roles, what with the lisp, and his aversion to blood and violence and all, but really he reverts to type whenever the director puts down his lion tamer’s whip and chair. He is a charismatic actor, there’s no doubt of that, but the character isn’t that memorable.

At least, not as memorable as his henchwoman Gazelle (Sofia Boutella) who walks around on those lethal blades. Someone doubtless once saw Oscar Pistorious running with his prosthetic legs and thought “what if that guy used those blades for evil instead of good?”, and thus was born a memorable visual. Of course that was probably well before the so called Blade Runner managed to murder his wife, using a boring old gun.

How tasteless, truly. Speaking of which, there’s meant to be this minor aura of ‘controversy’ over something that happens towards the end of the film, where a Swedish princess literally says to Eggsy that if he lets her out of captivity, she’ll let him have his way with her in a very uncomfortable place (and it’s not in the back of a Volkswagon) out of gratitude. Meh. The whole section, which Vaughn himself claims was meant to parody the way classic Bond flicks always ended with the champ having his way with the 2nd Bond girl (the first one usually having been murdered by dastardly villains or, um, by Bond himself) as the credits are about to roll.

Meh I say again. It fell flat in the cinema I saw it in, no-one laughed, so I’d say it failed. Far more troubling to me was that horrible, horrible alleged The Shining ‘homage’ where a woman is trying to murder her toddler daughter. I have to admit I thought to myself “What the fuck were these jerks thinking?” and the whole sequence left a very bad taste in my mouth.

When Eggsy finally gets to go the full Bond, I guess it’s meant to be cathartic and be a real fist pumping “Hell Yeah!” moment, but it really wasn’t working for me in the end. The logistics of how the alleged mastermind genius villain tries to achieve his ‘final solution’ to humanity’s problems made no fucking sense whatsoever, though I guess it was amusing enough to see Eggsy straining to get there before it was all too late for humanity.

It’s just that, you wouldn’t install a light switch, let’s say, in a room, that you always had to have your hand on continuously in order for the room to stay lit, would you? That’s impractical, isn’t it? And annoying. I mean, you just wouldn’t do it, for any reasonable reason.

So, too, with a ridiculously complicated Doomsday device that would take hours, days, probably weeks to achieve its objective (however ‘evil’ that objective might be), why would you want to be standing there at a console the whole time?

That’s pretty dumb, wouldn’t you think? Well, that’s just par for the course in a movie based on a Mark Millar comic. It’s a feature not a bug, that’s for certain.

It also confused the hell out of me in that the entire organisation seemed to consist of about four people: Michael Caine being all surly and aristocratic; Harry, the always awesome Mark Strong as the sort-of Q equivalent Merlin, a token girl called Roxy and Eggsy. Where the hell were all these other Kingsman geniuses? Too busy brushing lint off their shoulders and polishing their geeky glasses? Out putting doilies under coasters or somefink?

And all the allegedly ‘comical’ exploding of heads just didn’t work for me either, it was just annoying more than anything else, and went on and on and on in slow motion like it was something we were meant to be enjoying watching. I assure you, I did not.

So much for your super secret spy organisation that consists of five people (including an actual tailor), and your fantasies about the sun never setting on the British Empire all over again. Like this movie, it’s an only sporadically entertaining concept, punctuated by senseless violence and Benny Hill-level humour that even Benny Hill would roll his eyes at.

Of course, that last sentence could also be describing the last couple of hundred years of British history as well, probably more accurately than Kingsman: The Secret Service does.

6 times watching Mr Darcy brawling with pub lowlifes is worth the price of admission alone out of 10

“I'm a Catholic whore, currently enjoying congress out of wedlock with my black Jewish boyfriend who works at a military abortion clinic. Hail Satan, and have a lovely afternoon madam.” – words to live by – Kingsman: The Secret Service