Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014, dir. Matthew Vaughn)
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Kingsman is a reinvention of the James Bond concept, based on a comic book by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons. The story’s focus is on Eggsy, a young British man whose life has not turned out as he would have liked. Primarily his mother is brutalized by a brute in the estates. Eggsy ends up in trouble with the law but calls in a favor from a mysterious man who visited the family after the unexplained death of Eggsy’s father. It turns out his dad was part of a secret society of gentlemen who fight against global threats. Eggsy is enrolled in the program and must see if he can pass an increasingly deadly series of tests. Meanwhile, Galahad, the man who is now mentoring Eggsy, discovers a plot to wipe out humanity and must race against the clock to stop it.
I’ve had fairly positive feelings about the work of director Matthew Vaughn. I am a big fan of X-Men: First Class, it is without a doubt the best X-Men film we’ve had to date. I enjoyed his debut feature Layer Cake and Stardust was alright. I am not a fan of Kick-Ass which brings us to Mark Millar. Mark Millar is a comic book writer I’ve had very mixed feelings about. His Kick-Ass comics, and most of his more recent titles, have been way too mean-spirited for my personal tastes. His Marvel works has ranged from wonderful (Old Man Logan) to mixed (Fantastic Four) to outright terrible (Marvel 1985). There’s just a little too much irony in everything he writes, but occasionally he will come out with something that subverts my ideas. Kingsman seems in line with most of what Millar writes, but I think Vaughn’s work with the material is what elevates it.
I enjoyed the film quite a bit, despite sometimes messy plotting. Eventually the plot become so convoluted and silly you have to just sit back and enjoy the pretty and crazy things on the screen. The film is not scared to go super violent and within the first 10 minutes we have someone sliced down the middle. If you had always wanted James Bond to be heavier on the blood and guts then you have it made. The action sequences are enjoyable, though one over the top moment in the middle of the film goes on for just a few too many beats that it goes from laughing out loud in shock to really wanting things to finish already.
Kingsman is happy to compare itself to James Bond and goes very meta with the comparison. Galahad the big bad villain even have a tete a tete where they talk about their childhood dreams to go grow up and be differing roles in a Bond film. A death in the film even brings up the trope of a death trap that gives the good guy time to escape. The film walks the line between a classic Bond picture and a spoof a la Austin Powers and manages to come out fairly balanced. It never falls into outright farce but it knows it is a dumb fun movie and revels in that.
Kingsman isn’t going to change your life, but it will fill a void for classic Bond that the current Bond films seem to have forgotten, especially Spectre. While Spectre was Bond with the absence of any levity or humor, Kingsman is the adventures of a foul mouthed James Bond Jr. It fulfills the promise of those pictures with the English spy with the license to kill, a good two hours of spy gadgets, crazy villains, and fun action. With a sequel in the works, I’m interested to see if this franchise falls into the same formula as Bond, or carves out its own unique and cheeky niche.