Saturday, February 14, 2015

Kingsman: The Secret Service Review (Review #695)


I confess to not being enthusiastic about Kingsman: The Secret Service (something having to do with a deal I made with a coworker).   Well, after watching Kingsman, my short view is this: for better or worse, Kingsman is a better James Bond film than the most recent Bond films.  It is a bit too self-conscious of the Bond-like trappings and with regards to violence, Kingsman does go a bit too far at times.  However, on the whole it was what exactly what it appears to be: a movie for 14-year-olds who think Daniel Craig's rather dour turn as 007 is too bleak.

Eggsy (Taron Egerton) is a working-class ne'er-do-well with a heart of gold.  He is extremely bright, athletic (a former gymnast) and a Marine drop-out.  He also happens to be the son of a former Kingsman (though unbeknown to Eggsy's family).  The Kingsman are a super-secret organization, something like what the 00s are.  The only person who knows Eggsy's father's past is Henry Hart (Colin Firth), codename Galahad.  He believes Eggsy is the perfect candidate for joining the Kingsmen, even if he is working-class.  After a run-in with the law, Eggsy calls in the favor that he overheard when he was a toddler, and Harry takes in to be trained to join the Kingsmen by Merlin (Mark Strong), their version of Q.  Watching all this is the Kingsman head, Arthur (Sir Michael Caine). 

There are many to be trained by Merlin in matters physical, moral, and intellectual, and surprisingly, among those being trained are women (though they don't mind being referred to as 'kingsmen', I figure 'kingsperson' being too silly).  One of them, Roxie (Sophie Cookson), bonds with Eggsy and they help each other out.  Slowly one by one they fall away, whether it is because they fail an exam or are willing to talk when absolute secrecy is required.  Slowly, Eggsy keeps passing, especially after Henry is injured while on assignment.

Henry's assignment involves Professor Arnold (Mark Hamill...yes, THAT Mark Hamill), a climate change expert whose warnings about the danger humans pose to the earth are ignored.  Ignored, that is, except for billionaire Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson), a Russell Simmons/Steve Jobs hybrid who 'rescues' the Professor from abduction.  His rescue cost the life of a Kingsman, Lancelot (Jack Davenport).  Henry wants to know who did it, why, and to avenge Lancelot.  Valentine, for his part, wants to know who this group is, and he is helped by Gazelle (Sofia Boutella), his loyal henchwoman who has blades for legs.

Soon Valentine and the Kingsmen become aware of the other.  Eggsy, for his part, ultimately fails his final test: shooting his dog.  Henry is angry that Eggsy could have turned so weak, and Roxy becomes the new Lancelot.   Valentine's nefarious scheme is to give everyone free internet and cell phone service through his company, but which will when activated unleash violence upon all the users.  They will start killing each other, while those whom Valentine has protected will repopulate the Earth.  Henry, investigation a Westboro-type church (which in Hollywood, is a typical run-of-the-mill Christian denomination), becomes aware on a personal level the amount of violence Valentine's technological weapon can cause (mass mayhem and murder).  Henry also gets shot in the head by Valentine, which is ironic in that Valentine personally hates violence and can't stand the sight of blood.  It is now up to Eggsy, Merlin, and Roxie to defeat Valentine and Gazelle and save the world.   

Did I hate Kingsman?  No.  To its credit it knew exactly what it was: a mixture spoof/homage to pre-Craig Bond films.  In fact, this is mentioned by both Hart and Valentine.  In a dinner scene between them, when both are in essence scoping each other out, they mention their mutual fondness for old-school James Bond films.  Valentine says he always loved 007, with his smooth ways and incredible feats of daring-do.  Hart mentions how he preferred the megalomaniac villain, with his grandiose schemes for taking over the world.  Just before Valentine blows Henry's brains out, Valentine goes on about how at this point, he would take the agent hostage and put him in some elaborate death trap just to have the agent come up with an equally elaborate escape from said death trap.

"This ain't that kind of movie," Valentine retorts.

Perhaps it's that winking to the audience that didn't go over with me all that well.  It isn't to say I didn't get it, but sometimes one can be a little too conscious of what one is doing to make it sound all that clever.  Again, for me all the 'I know we're playing at conventions but we're going to do so anyway' wasn't bad, but perhaps we could have had a little 'less is more' thinking on that.

One has to give credit where credit is due, and that is to the special effects.  I'm not talking about a ghastly scene where we see people's heads literally explode (include an Obama-esque President), or when someone is literally sliced in half.  I'm talking about making Colin Firth, the poshest of posh performers, Mr. Darcy himself, into some sort of kick-ass action star.  It deserves an Oscar just for turning King George VI into an elder Jason Statham (only with hair). 

I actually though Firth did quite well as the proper agent whose motto is "Manners maketh man" and mourns how spies in films today are a little more serious than perhaps they should be.  If one thinks about it, just about everyone plays against type and appears to be having the time of their lives.  The veddy proper Firth as an action star.  The loud Jackson as a lisping, blood-and-violence abhorring billionaire/criminal mastermind.  Caine, whose career and life began as the embodiment of East End blokes (see Alfie or Sleuth) as the snobbish Arthur.  The tough and brutal Strong as the intellectual of the bunch.  Egerton, who is the main character, is pretty much an unknown, but I think he did quite well as the kid from the wrong side of the tracks whose abilities bring him to being among the elite in a world of elites.

There was a lot to like in Kingsman.  We got all the trappings of a Bond-type film, down to the Jaws-like henchman (only with murderous blades instead of metal teeth).  The colors were bright, the action well-shot, the performances pretty much solid.  One thing I thought well of Kingsman is the message that one's background is not representative of his true status.  Again and again Henry points out to Eggsy that just because Eggsy wasn't born to wealth doesn't mean he can't get ahead.  Merlin also makes it clear that Eggsy better get that chip off his shoulder and stop insisting that his poor background makes him somehow 'inferior' to those who were born to wealth.

It even takes a few jabs to those on the right and left.  The Westboro-type group obviously is not representative of all Christians (and it would be nice if they got away from that).  However, Valentine's idea that 'money won't solve climate change' is a dig at the Left's idea of fixing things with money.

Then there is the violence question.  Is Kingsman a bit too violent?  Not if you're someone pretty used to video games.  There were times while watching Kingsman that I was pretty much shocked by how graphic it could be.  That 'slicing' of a human being was a bit much.  It was a bit like in Terminator 2: Judgment Day when Robert Patrick gets cut up in two parts.  The difference of course is that in T2, it was a machine, while in Kingsman, it's a human. 

The real jaw-dropping moment is when Merlin activates the implants within the villain's group and we see their heads not just explode but explode with little mushroom clouds bursting from them in all sorts of colors while Sir Edward Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance is playing.  There is something immature in all this to me, as if director Matthew Vaughn was appealing to those teen boys who find such things amusing than to me, who was a aghast at it all. 

Maybe a touch too much to see the President's head explode into a mushroom cloud, but there it is.  

Kingsman, based on a comic-book, is very much a product of its source material.  It has a mixture of James Bond obviously, but also a little bit too of Men in Black (the younger man taken into a bizarre netherworld by an older wise figure).  It is a little too violent for my tastes (though nothing as bad as Kick-Ass, which I found much worse) and there is a certain immaturity to Kingsman.  I figure though that this film wasn't made with me in mind.  It was made for those who like comic books, who like video games, and who don't think too much about things like people getting sliced in half by a woman with swords for legs.  Kingsman is for those who enjoy all the above and who know who Iggy Azalea is (I don't).  A little long in my view (it felt longer than its two-hour running time), which with the violence is a bit of an issue.

No, Kingsman: The Secret Service wasn't as crappy as I thought it would be.  It works for what it is, and for that I can't fault it.     


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