Saturday, February 14, 2015

Kingsman: The Secret Service

Kingsman: The Secret Service evokes the idea of the “Gentleman Spy”, a concept that we are told reached its zenith in the 1960’s James Bond films. The idea of Bond as the guiding spirit of Kingsman isn’t just suggested through plotting or visual style, it is openly discussed by an agent known as “Galahad” (Colin Firth) and a man named Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson). Kingsman, like every other film I’ve seen directed by Matthew Vaughn, has no time for subtlety. Galahad, whose real name is Harry Hart, and his colleagues are a free-floating intelligence agency that has taken upon itself the task of keeping the world peaceful. (The idea that the Kingsmen are stateless - though very English - is actually an important departure from the Bond films since nowadays countries are just staging areas for different kinds of threats.) Harry reports to a boss we know as Arthur (Michael Caine, exactly as you’d expect) while at the same time mentoring Eggsy (Taron Egerton), a working-class kid to whom Harry thinks he can pass on the Kingsman tradition.

The preceding paragraph describes garbage of a very high order. Vaughn uses what could have been the setup for a genre pastiche or a political satire to stage a series of set pieces in which the only thing that matters is the degree to which death is treated as a contrivance. There’s a tense scene in which Eggsy and his fellow would be Kingsman Roxy (Sophie Cookson) must survive a parachute jump, and on the low end of the scale a bloody fight sequence in which Harry hacks his way through an American church to the tune of “Free Bird”. Along the way Kingsman (adapted from a Mark Millar/Dave Gibbons comic) stops to fetishize bespoke suits, spy gadgetry, and the already tired idea that people are slaves to their cell phones. The bit about the cell phones is a particular issue for Jackson’s Valentine, whose plans to reorganize society are what set the plot in motion. Jackson, whose character speaks with a lisp and dresses like a Russell Simmons impersonator, appears to be having more fun here than I’ve seen him have in a while but even he can’t save what is essentially a live action video game. There’s a repeated line of dialogue in Kingsman to the effect that what’s happening “isn’t that kind of movie”, in other words that there will be no overly complex schemes or villains giving long speeches at the wrong times. “It isn’t that kind of movie” should be the tagline in the Kingsman advertising, because in two hours time those are the most honest words you’ll hear.

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