‘Kingsman: The Secret Service’
20th Century Fox
2 hour, 9 minutes
British filmmaker Matthew Vaughn isn’t afraid to shake things up when it comes to genre movies. His “Kick-Ass,” based on a comic book by Mark Millar, was an effective, if biting, riff on superhero films, and this week’s “Kingsman: The Secret Service,” also from a book by Millar, aims to do the same with spy films, although taking a somewhat different route. Where “Kick-Ass” was, ostensibly, a kind of reality-based look at the genre, “Kingsman” takes the inherent cartoony illogic of James Bond and amps it to 11. The movie is bold, energetic, very fun, though very violent, and a blast from start to finish. Or, that is, right up until the last few minutes. Drat! So close.
The movie opens two decades prior to the present, in the Middle East. While infiltrating the lair of a shadowy terrorist, a soldier, a member of the super-secret spy organization the “Kingsmen,” as it turns out, is killed. His immediate superior, codename Galahad, is heartsick and pays his comrade’s grieving widow a visit wherein he bestows up the fallen soldier’s young son Eggsy a peculiar medal, with a specific phone number and code phrase to go with it. “If there’s ever anything you need,” he says, “don’t hesitate to call.” Jump forward twenty years and our young hero, now a troubled twenty-something hooligan, ends up in jail after stealing a car. Instead of calling mom, he calls the number on the back of his medal and lo and behold, it’s a Kingsman that shows up to help.
From here Eggsy and a host of other potential recruits are run through the ringer in attempts to become a Kingsman, a secret society of tailors who, after WWI, decided to take matters into their own hands and became an elite assassin force for good. The training is nearly impossible and, as the recruits are told, not always survivable. This stuff makes for good fun, but it’s never really in question who’s going to make it to the end. Meanwhile, in another movie, billionaire philanthropist Richmond Valentine, played hilariously by Samuel Jackson with a bizarre lisp and extreme aversion to blood, is kidnapping celebrities and scientists and is hatching some kind of nefarious plot involving climate change. Handling the messy stuff for Valentine is Gazelle, as deadly as she is beautiful, lacking her lower legs but more than making due with two razor-sharp running blades. Much like Darth Maul did in “The Phantom Menace,” actress Sofia Boutella fairly steals every scene she is in with her death dealing acrobatics. Eventually Valentine will have to come face to face with the Kingsmen, but who will prevail is anyone’s guess. You can probably guess.
Vaughn, along with stars Colin Firth, Jackson, Mark Strong, and new-comer Taron Egerton, imbues “Kingsman” with a wry wit, filling it with subtle references to myriad films from the 007 series to “Dr. Strangelove.” There’s even a “Princess Bride” reference at one point. But make no mistake, “Kingsman” is neither a silly, “Airplane” style takeoff nor a Quentin Tarantino-esque wink-a-thon. The story is strong, stands well on it’s own, and is completely engaging. The script is sharp and, best of all, entertaining. That’s probably the best thing you can say about the film, is that it’s fun to watch.
Mostly. Though I was thoroughly impressed with a good deal of the film, there are some serious missteps which will keep this from being a movie that just anyone can enjoy. For one, the violence goes from being funny in the beginning, to pretty rough by the end. There is one scene in particular – a very well-constructed scene, by the way, that is a good five minutes of non-stop brutal killing. In context it makes perfect sense, but that doesn’t make it easy to sit through. This however, I expected. “Kick-Ass” was like that, and the movie is rated R, so you know what you’re getting. What the movie doesn’t give you is sex in any appreciable way until the final few minutes of the film when suddenly the writers throw in an incredibly crass, crude joke/scenario that is completely over the top and completely at odds with the tone of the rest of the film. It’s not that I’m a prude, but the joke is so blatant and obvious, while aiming for the absolute lowest common denominator that it feels like it comes from a completely different movie – perhaps one starring Seth Rogan and James Franco. It’s not a deal-breaker for me – I liked “Kingsman,” got a kick out of the characters, and am glad that there’s such a sharply written action-comedy out there. But for a film so consistently clever, its one “Dumb and Dumber” moment sticks out like a sore thumb. Grade: B+
“Kingsman: The Secret Service” is rated R for language, pervasive, often graphic violence, and one completely out of the blue sex joke.
Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.