Kingsman: The Secret Service
Fun tale, over-the-top violence
Kingsman: The Secret Service has been marketed to American audiences as a spy spoof, which makes it easy to identify, but does it do a disservice by undercutting its worthiness as a good film in its own right. After all, this is the land of Scary Movie and its ilk: parodies that offer mockery without making an effort to tell a good story while they’re at it. What’s more, the spy genre has been spoofed before—most enduringly by the Austin Powers franchise—and while Kingsman has its referential, meta moments, it is a real film in the more playful tradition of the early Bond movies.
No matter how crisp the writing or engaging the characters, the nauseating array of severed limbs and broken necks drain the movie of all the joy it works so hard to supply.
Colin Firth headlines as Harry Hart, aka Galahad, since all the operatives in the private Kingsmen spy organization adopt the names of King Arthur’s knights of the Round Table as their code names. When an English hooligan named Eggsy (newcomer Taron Egerton) calls in the favor Galahad owes him because his dad once saved Galahad’s life, Eggsy finds himself invited to join the competition to fill a recently opened spot at the Kingsmen round table: Lancelot. This is a lower-class-fish-competing-in-upper-class-water kind of story, complete with stogy, old, head Kingsman “Arthur” (Michael Caine) who believes only those of noble blood can be good spies.
Meanwhile, megabillionaire Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson) is announcing his plans to provide free Internet and cell service to everyone through his proprietary SIM card (Google/Apple/Virgin paranoia perhaps?), while celebrities, scientists, and world leaders around the world begin to go missing. While his protégé Eggsy competes with elites who are more traditional Kingsman material, Galahad investigates a mysterious link between the missing people and Valentine.
In most respects, this is a truly good move: great characters, believable plot (more believable than your average spy movie, anyway), gutsy twists, and a villain whose grand plan makes terrifying sense. But the jagged rock in this movie’s shoe is the graphic violence. No matter how crisp the writing or engaging the characters, the nauseating array of severed limbs and broken necks drain the movie of all the joy it works so hard to supply.
Far more than any Bond film, Kingsman devotes itself to the idea of the gentleman spy, stressing the point that a gentleman is not determined by bloodlines but by his conduct, character, and, if at all possible, a bespoke suit. But as the bodies pile up—whole or in pieces—the film reveals its cognitive dissonance: a less than gentlemanly fascination with as much gore as it can spew across the screen.
In the old days, violence had to be manufactured with blood packs, camera tricks, blanks and tightly choreographed fights. Letting some of the violence happen off camera was more a necessity than a style choice. Just because computers nowadays can show us vertebrae splintering in slow motion, does that mean they should? Do 20 bleeding stumps serve some kind of cinematic purpose?
Colin Firth has more fun in Kingsman than probably in any of his previous movies, ever. During long stretches free of gratuitous violence, I had just as much fun watching it. It’s too bad director Matthew Vaughn let brutality ruin one of the best spy adventures in decades, and even more troubling is that so few critics seemed to notice.
Kingsman: The Secret Service is rated R for sequences of graphic violence, language, and some exceptionally crude sexual content.