Kingsman: The Secret Service
Posted on February 12, 2015 at 5:55 pm
“James Bond? Jason Bourne?” Our hero is being asked for the inspiration for naming his dog JB. “No,” he explains, “Jack Bauer.”
This is a cheeky, nasty, meta, po-mo update of the spy genre, self-aware enough to name-check not just Bond, Bourne, and “24,” but also “Nikita,” “Trading Places,” “Pretty Woman,” and “My Fair Lady.” I also caught a reference to the 60’s television show “The Man from UNCLE,” about to get its own big-screen reboot later this year.
Some of the core elements of the sophisticated spy story are here, from the elegant suits to the very specific cocktail order, as well as the super-cool weapons and gadgets we will have the fun of seeing deployed later on. And the villain has an assassin/sidekick who goes one, or maybe two better than iconic characters like Oddjob and Jaws. Spanish dancer Sofia Boutella plays the acrobatic Gazelle, who runs on Oscar Pistorius-style blades as sharp as scalpels. She can slice a man in half lengthwise with one slash of her leg. And does.
Other aspects of the usual spy story are tweaked or outright upended. That old favorite, the talking villain, who has such a profound need to explain the genius of his nefarious plan that it gives Our Hero time to thwart him, is explicitly disposed of. The look of the film is as sleek and sophisticated as the score from Henry Jackman and Matthew Margeson.
Colin Firth is sleekly perfect as Harry, also known as Galahad, part of an elegant, upper-class cadre of international gentleman spies operating in total secrecy and using pseudonyms based on King Arthur and his knights. Their made to order suits are both exquisitely tailored and bulletproof.
He points to a wall of framed newspaper headlines about triviality — political squabbles and celebrity scandals — explaining that while these things were going on, he and his fellow Kingsmen were repeatedly saving the world. The person he is explaining it to is Eggsy (Taron Egerton), a possible new recruit. Eggsy is a smart, tough, brash kid who grew up in what the British call council houses and we call the projects, the son of a widow whose second husband is an abusive thug. Eggsy’s late father sacrificed himself to save Harry and other members of the team, so Harry feels a sense of responsibility — and a suspicion that Eggsy might have inherited his father’s courage and sense of honor.
While they had previously limited themselves to the wealthy upper class, Harry persuades the Kingsman’s leader (Michael Caine as Arthur) to allow Eggsy to compete for a spot on the team. The competition is tough and the tasks are tougher, the most imaginative and entertaining section of the movie. Then of course comes our supervillain, Samuel L. Jackson as Valentine, a lisping technology billionaire whose frustration with the failure of the world to reckon with global warming has led him to devise some drastic plans. Once he gets involved, the self-aware air quotes get less interesting and so does the storyline. “Bond films are only as good as the villain,” he says. True, and he is no Goldfinger.
In the last half hour, things really go off the rails. The carnage is balletic and portrayed as darkly comic but it is still disturbing, particularly the involvement of a specific real-life world leader. The humor is not just dark; it is crude for the sake of being crude and seems rather desperate. A film that began with a confident sense of sophistication, wit, and edge knows what it is not (“This is not that kind of movie”) but not what it is.
Parents should know that this movie is extremely violent, with hundreds of characters injured and killed and many exploding heads. Characters use very strong language and drink alcohol. There are explicit and crude sexual references and brief nudity.
Family discussion: Which of the tests would have been the hardest for you? What did they prove about the candidates?
If you like this, try: the James Bond films