Well, that’s it. For better or worse, the Oscars happend. Congrats to [insert winners, or whatever]. Now, on to the review:
First off, I saw the new Matthew Vaughn movie Kingsman: The Secret Service this past Tuesday, and then again on Saturday. And I’m just writing this review on Sunday night. And it’s not because I’m lazy (alright, partially). It’s because I’m truly having trouble finding the words to describe it. In short: I adored it. I thought it was amazing and wonderful and funny and stellar and beautiful from start to finish.
Harry Hart (Collin Firth), code named Galahad, is on a special operations mission when his failure causes the death of his friend and colleague. 17 years later, Hart rescues brilliant but delinquent Gary “Eggsy” Unwin (that colleague’s son) from a police station and recruits him into “The Kingsman”- a top-secret, and extraordinarily fashionable independent, international espionage agency. Eggsy undergoes a rigorous selection processes to become a Kingsman and stop billionaire tech pioneer Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson) and his nefarious plot.
So first off, It’s done by the same people who did Kick-Ass, a film that I deeply hate and resent. But the same directer also did Layer Cake and X-Men: First Class, so I really wanted to remain skeptical yet open. Overall, the film reminded me of a lot of things- both pleasant and unpleasant.
It seemed a lot like one of those “hyper-violence” films. It’s that kind of super cartoonish and excessive violence that Tarantino, Kick-Ass, and The Raid have (among others), and I’m very on the fence about it- I really think that it depends on the film. Kingsman, does it thoroughly and unabashedly, and I think that a movie this colorful and fun is delightfully refreshing. I think the best way I could describe it is “If Tarantino made a movie about old spy movies and didn’t have his head up his own ass.”
At heart, Kingsman: The Secret Service is an affectionate throw-back to classic spy movies. There are zany gadgets, suave spies, uptight gentlemanliness, large, insanely crazy super-villain plots- but the movie takes them all in stride. In the same way as Tarantino referencing the media that inspired him, Kingsman makes some references to older spy films. For instance, when Firth and Jackson’s characters meet for the first time, they talk about some of their favorite films and trade barbs about how they secretly know who each other are. It feels like a scene that Quentin would write. At the same time it subverts and then further gleefully uses them. For instance SPOILERS AHOY! HIGHLIGHT TO READ: When Firth is cornered by Jackson and his goons, he jokes about how this would be the time to arrange a convoluted death trap. Jackson simply says “this ain’t that kind of movie,” and shoots him in the head. Now while this seems like the kind of shit I hated about Kick-Ass, the difference is that in the finale, when Eggsy has impaled Valentine with a woman’s blade-prosthetic leg (it makes sense in context), Valentine asks Eggsy to say a cool one liner like in the old films. Eggsy echoes “Like you told Harry, ‘This ain’t that kind of movie,’ bruv.” To which Valentine replies “perfect.” END SPOILERS
At the same time, though, the movie is not without heart or weight. The message is largely epitomized in Collin Firth’s phrase “manners maketh man.” Pretty much all of the other Kingsman secret agents are up-tight, posh, stuffy british gentlemen except for Eggsy. But Firth recruits and mentors Eggsy nonetheless because he believes that nobility is in being noble and not in your birth status. As Hemmingway stated (and Harry quotes) “There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.”
The cast not only blends very well and delivers some superb performances, but they also diverge away from their “prototypical roles” if you will. First off, I will always watch things with Mark Strong in them.
Mark Strong all day long
I think he’s one of the more under appreciated actors of the last two decades or so. But while most films show Mark Strong as gruff hero/antihero/villain, in Kingsman, he plays Merlin- basically the “Q” of the movie. He’s the techie and the gadget man who still manages to be a complete badass in his own way. It is also so very, very satisfying to see Colin Firth as a complete action badass, SPOILERS AHOY! HIGHLIGHT TO READ and equally refreshing to see Michael Caine as a spiteful, betraying bastard villain.END SPOILERS.
Much like John Wick, Kingsman: The Secret Service builds an awesome world. The whole selection processes and the glimpses of their gadgets and technology and base is awesome to see. I really wouldn’t mind seeing sequels that dealt with it more. One of the cooler aspects was each Kingsman gets their codename from one of the Knights of the Round Table- with Michael Caine as “Arthur”, and when a Kingsman dies, each surviving member nominates a youngster to fill that position (Eggsy is competing to become the new Lancelot).
Thankfully, there’s no shoe-horned love story (though Eggsy does assumedly have anal sex with a Swedish princess, but that’s not important). The other prominent candidate for Lancelot is Roxy. Roxy and Eggsy don’t end up together- there really aren’t many hints that they will, either. They two are friends and partners who learn to trust each other and help each other get over their fears. Roxy is just as capable as Eggsy SPOILERS AHOY! HIGHLIGHT TO READ: In fact, it’s actually Roxy that becomes the new Lancelot. Though after Harry dies, Eggsy becomes the new GalahadEND SPOILERS
Another thing: holy crap that soundtrack. I’ve said a lot that a soundtrack can make or break a film- and not just because my good friend is a composer. Look at Guardians of the Galaxy- the soundtrack made that film a whole. If not for Awesome Mix Vol. 1, it wouldn’t be the movie it was. Same thing with Kingsman: The Secret Service. The whole movie is so fluidly, dynamically, yet comprehensibly filmed and choreographed. Honestly it has some of the best cinematography I can remember. There is a fight scene where Colin Firth tears through a group of Westboro Baptist Church expies that have been made madly rabid by Valentine’s weapon while the guitar solo to Freebird plays. If that doesn’t convince you to see the film, get off the internet and sit in a corner because you will never find joy in this world.
Things I liked about it: Pretty much all 129 minutes. The return of fun and gleeful action movies. Collin Firth’s newfound badassdom.
Things I disliked about it: having to sneak out the back door so I wouldn’t expose my action-erection (eraction) to all of the other people
Should you go see it? If you’re bothered by blood or viscera (like Jackson’s character Valentine is), you might want to sit this one out. Otherwise, you really ought to check it out. It’s definitely worth your time, and is up there with John Wick as one of my most favorite films I’ve reviewed.
Be sure to check out my other column Trope-ic Thunder, where I discuss science tropes in the media.
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