For those of you who are veterans of the Misan[trope]y Movie Blog, you’ll likely have noticed that I don’t do a whole lot of coverage of current cinematic fare. I prefer sniffing around in actor/director filmographies, sifting up obscure titles, and digging things out of bargain bins to cover. However, I’m going to make an exception on the case of “Kingsman: The Secret Service.”
As a caveat, this review absolutely necessitates SPOILERS. Now, I am the sort of person who will often forgo spoiler warnings, but I really want to emphasize that “The Kingsman” is worth going into unspoiled.
“The Kingsman” is very much a movie created in deep affection for the spy movie genre. In that way, it feels very similar to Edgar Wright’s Cornetto trilogy (“Shaun of the Dead,” “Hot Fuzz,” “The World’s End”). There is, to say the least, a lot to like about “The Kingmen” if you are a fan of the genre. Send ups come fast and furious, from everything from James Bond, to “Get Smart,” to the Bourne Trilogy. It plays with the familiar tropes and stereotypes of the genre in just the way you would expect from a Wright/Pegg/Frost movies, and manages to play them almost entirely straight-faced while also turning them into something that feels new.
I absolutely recommend seeing this movie if you have any affection for spy or action flicks. I think the film is fantastic. That said, I have a handful of issues with it.
After the sure-to-be-infamous (and fantastically done) church scene, and the subsequent departure of Colin Firth, this film starts to fall apart. The last act doesn’t hold up with the rest of the film, which is kind of a shame. First off, it feels very rushed. It is true that they are put against a countdown for the last act, but it definitely feels hastily tossed together. I expected a little bit more internal infiltration of The Kingsmen to deal with, which could have gotten another solid fight scene out of the movie. It also would have put a more direct class conflict battle into the film, which is a theme that never quite comes to a head outside of the “poisoned drink” standoff with Caine (which is great, for sure).
Next thing: the climactic symphony of colorful head explosions. It is something to see, without a doubt. However, I was reminded of some of the Sony correspondences that came out regarding “The Interview.” In particular, discoloring the viscera from a head explosion was key in getting a desired MPAA rating out of that film, which leads me to wonder if the colorful head-explosion orgy in the climax of “The Kingsman” was actually creatively motivated, or was a compromise for the sake of a ratings board. In any case, you could argue that this was intentionally cartoonish, but I feel like this film would have served better with a more “Scanners”-esque style of head popping with practical effects. I’ll be interested to see what comes up in the Director’s commentary on this scene, anyway. Also, we get a close-up shot of an awful CGI head explosion of the Swedish Prime Minister during that sequence, and it looks absolutely godawful.
Last but not least, the “Princess” feels like a character and scenario that belongs in the bloopers. I understand it being a send-up to 007 and playing for laughs, but it does not fit with the movie in any way, and undercuts the potential romance with Lancelot that was alluded to throughout the film. It also cheapens a character who, in her only other major scene, seemed like an intriguing and ethical political leader. Her being reduced to a lazy sex joke at the 11th hour was disappointing for a number of reasons, not the least of which was the amount of screen-time set-up for a joke that wasn’t particularly funny.
Something that I still can’t decide is a positive or a negative is Samuel L. Jackson’s performance. I feel like he was going too far with the quirks, particularly with the speech impediment. With this kind of movie, Colin Firth’s character is correct: it is always made by the megalomaniacal, larger-than-life villain. Jackson just isn’t quite that. I did like his complicated motivations, which harkened to eugenicist’s logic and “The Watchmen” ethics.
I’m going to be lenient on the lack of character depth across the board in this movie, because this is just a flashy, fun flick. It doesn’t make sense to complain about Mark Strong being a wooden board, or the main character being often insufferable, or Roxy getting almost nothing to do until she is shot into space (and out of the plot). I can forgive a lot of this stuff, because this is an action movie, and that naturally comes with the territory.
Now, again, I loved this movie. It was a boatload of fun. These are overall pretty minor issues, but I felt like they were worth throwing out there. So, here is a short list of things I thought were fantastic about the movie.
- Holy shit, is it good to see Mark Hamill on the screen again
- Car chase in reverse is fantastic
- Michael Caine’s death scene. His last grunts are A+
- Everything about the sequence introducing Lancelot and Gazelle (though the “split” still looks goofy 13 years on from “Equilibrium”)
- The church sequence is one of the best action scenes in years
- The design of Gazelle. Definitely feels like a character in the vein of Jaws and Oddjob
- Galahad’s death
- The final fight scene between Gazelle and Eggsy
- Taking a balloon into space to blow up a satellite
- Fitting room #3, and all of the gadgets therein
- The idea of a philanthropist as the modern day, eccentric villain
- Colin Firth’s performance 100% channeling early Michael Caine
- Kingsman training was a fun way to kill time
- Comedic moments, with rare exception, are right on target
- All of the subtle (and not-so-subtle) references to “Get Smart,” James Bond, Jason Bourne, Jack Bauer, and others
See? I have lots of good things to say about this movie! If you disregarded the spoiler warning, I want to make it absolutely clear that this is a movie worth your time, and that my complaints shouldn’t dissuade you from attending a screening. If you even remotely think you would enjoy this movie, then go see it! Odds are good you will not be disappointed.
Kudos to Matthew Vaughn, who is now 5/5 as a director if you ask me (“Layer Cake,” “Stardust,” “Kick-Ass,” “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” “Kingsman”). “Layer Cake,” his first, is probably my favorite British gangster movie of the modern era that isn’t directed by Guy Ritchie, and is a movie that I will absolutely recommend for anyone who enjoyed “Kingsman.”