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Sunday, 8 February 2015

Kingsman: The Secret Service - Dir. Matthew Vaughn

Many people have proclaimed Kingsman: The Secret Service to be light hearted fun and have called out some of the more vociferous critics for taking the film too seriously. Yes, not every film has to be <insert obscure, black and white, foreign film here>, but a film that so trivially asks the audience to take pleasure from thousands of people killing each other needs to be taken seriously.

Council house teenager Gary “Eggsy” Unwin (Taron Egerton) gets himself arrested after a dangerous joy ride across London. As a last resort, he calls in the favour given to him by a suave and sophisticated super spy Harry Hart (Colin Firth), who wants to help Eggsy after being partly responsible for the death of his father. Hart offers Eggsy the chance to become a member of Kingsman: an independent intelligence agency saving the world one courteous quip at a time.




There’s an unwritten rule in the James Bond films: innocent people being killed or put in peril is a bad thing; even the hyper violent Kick-Ass abides by this rule. In any James Bond action sequence the bystanders are never hurt and are often actively shown to be unharmed. It’s just goodies killing baddies and vice versa, which is what allows these films to be fun despite their violent nature. Kingsman on the other hand, puts innocent people in peril AND wants you to have fun whilst watching thousands of people dying; there’s even a groovy disco ditty to accompany the massacre.

Yet seconds after this killing spree, Kingsman asks that we care about a baby in peril because of the baby’s connection to the main character. You simply can’t have it both ways; killing innocent people cannot be fun one minute and then bad the next. Furthermore, killing innocent people isn’t fun in the first place.


There’s a similarly unpleasant sequence earlier on in the film where Valentine tests out his nefarious scheme on the congregation at an extremist church, which results in Galahad murdering everybody in sight by every means possible. First of all, Valentine going to the church makes no sense; his ultimate plan targets everybody so why bother finding some people he doesn’t like for the trial run. He’s got a secret lair full of soldiers; why not test it out on them? Similarly if he really wanted to test the effectiveness of his plan, surely he would test it out on a group of mild mannered pacifists. A convent of nuns, for example, would be a more logical target.


The only problem with that idea of course is that nobody would release a film that encourages the audience to have fun when Colin Firth brutally murders innocent nuns. So instead, we get the mass murder a group of racist, homophobic, bigoted churchgoers; the implication being that it’s ok to have fun at their mass murder because their extremist opinion is different and deemed to be wrong. In a time where the discussion of free speech is rife, it’s astonishing to see a film with such a backwards and clumsy attitude to violent acts of this nature.


Even ignoring this troubling attitude towards violence, Kingsman is horribly confused as to what it wants to be. It’s one part superhero origin story and one part superhero sequel and doesn’t satisfy as either because it takes a long time for the two strands to (poorly) come together. The training sequences are well done except for the final test, which seems to say that you can’t be a secret agent if you don’t needlessly kill a dog. Then there’s the matter of the crass anal sex gag at the end of the film, which has been a point of contention for many people. I don’t object to the joke because of its crass nature (crass jokes can be funny), I object to it because it is totally out of character and tonally out of step with the rest of the film. I get it, it's subverting the endings of the Moore era Bond films, but those films are over 30 years old; we've realised that they were preposterous and have moved on.

The film is even more confused with what it wants to say about class. It starts off well enough with Galahad believing that it’s time for the demographic of the Kingsman agents to more accurately reflect that of the whole country. Sadly, the potential agents boil to a group of upper class Bullingdon-esque twits and Eggsy the streetwise troublemaker, which is a rather reductive portrait of said demographic. In fact, the one candidate who appears to sit somewhere in between those extremities, Sophie Cookson’s Roxy, is largely sidelined for the second half of the film. By the end, all the film does is suggest that, as Tim Robey eloquently puts, “even a working-class lad can dream big and become a slick, womanising male chauvinist dinosaur if he sets his heart on it”.


Having greatly enjoyed all of Matthew Vaughn’s previous, it gives me no pleasure to see him produce a film that’s this ill judged. He’s also gone out and financed the movie outside of the Hollywood system to maintain his creative freedom, which is admirable. Both Kick-Ass and Kingsman: The Secret Service share that boundless creativity but whereas the former carefully handled its violence, the latter is irredeemably reckless.






Kingsman: The Secret Service was released in the UK on 23rd January 2015. Photos and trailer courtesy of 20th Century Fox Film.

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