I spent most of Kingsman: The Secret Service wondering if I’d even bother to review it. It seemed just mediocre enough that I could save the time, but then it became such a vile, ugly movie it pushed me to express my distaste. Kingsman is the child that likes breaking things and doesn’t care who has to clean up. It takes great pride in tearing apart the spy movie genre, unaware that it’s relying on a lot more tropes than it realizes. Attempts to be extreme are rather alienating and miss the point of their own behavior. It’s sadly more Kick-Ass 2 than Kick-Ass 1.
Badass superspy Galahad (Colin Firth) recruits Eggsy (Taron Egerton), also the son of a former recruit who died on a mission. Eggsy goes through Kingsman training with other recruits and it’s really false advertising as the Colin Firth action movie. It’s a training movie where they do have to save the day at the end. That’s also the structure of a Police Academy movie.
Kingsman is so smug about dismantling spy movie cliches that every anti-James Bond line is a groaner. Oh, the martini is different, ohhhhhhhh. I’m sorry, but if you’re using Rosa Klebb’s shoe as an integral plot device, you don’t get to make fun of James Bond. I saw every plot twist coming because if you’re doing the opposite of a James Bond movie, then there’s still only one thing that could happen at every turn. The new “serious” James Bond/Jason Bourne style is more palatable than this alternative.
The church scene is where Kingsman takes a really ugly turn, and I won’t spoil it, but it’s an immature fantasy you’re supposed to enjoy. The characters are helpless because of a plot device, but the movie thinks its fun because the victims “deserve” it. That’s not celebrating carnage. The filmmakers are bullying an easy target. Be more clever with your satire.
Kick-Ass 2 had an attempted rape scene played for laughs, so that’s the worst, but I feel the stuff in Kingsman comes from the same place. There are movies that explore violent wish fulfillment in responsible ways. Kick-Ass 1 was one of them. Kick-Ass 1 showed the unsettling consequences of violence while celebrating it. One of my favorites, Shoot ‘em Up, had Clive Owen shoot people who offended him, grown men with ponytails and people who cut him off in traffic for example. Those minor characters had agency though and it was a satirical way to express a point of view.
Kingsman enjoys its basest fantasies without even acknowledging that they’re base. A wink or a nudge indicating some glimmer of maturity could turn the third act into a masterpiece of rebellion, but it’s all bravado. The most damning aspect is that any preservation of life is treated like a joke. Ha ha, you spared a life!
I’m amazed they got away with the stuff that’s in the movie, but that audacity is as much of an FU to the audience as it is to the studio or MPAA. The finale becomes a meaningless barrage of senselessness, that seems to want to have it both ways, criticizing Bond movies but enjoying all their accoutrements. The sexual fantasies are just as distasteful.
As I said, this is not the Colin Firth fight movie we’re being sold. It’s great that Firth wants to do action, and does it well. You find that most actors want to have fun, hence Helen Mirren shooting machine guns and Firth doing kung fu. But he only fights twice, and one of them is wasted on a bad joke.
Kingsman is just a training movie, and the training is more mind games than learning skills. Mental acuity is surely important to spies as well, but it’s the same mind game every time. After the first time, how could the recruits not figure out how they’re being tested again? The Kingsmen were so much more interesting, we were deprived of a movie all about them. There is a good way to do training/mission in the same movie though, and I don’t mean Police Academy. Vin Diesel did it in XXX, where his training was handled in act one and simply consisted of doing the most awesome extreme stunts over all the bad guys.
The cast is great. Firth should be the lead of his own action movie, and Egerton takes on the mantle superbly. I loved Sophie Cookson as Roxy. The gadgets are really cool too. It’s the tone I had a problem with. Well, it wasn’t very exciting or clever to begin with, but the tone made it really distasteful.