On Saturday we were a little too tired to game after a long, emotional day, and so we decided to go watch Kingsman: The Secret Service, which is getting good reviews. I have to admit that the trailer drew me in. Watching Colin Firth teaching some thugs about manners in a spectacular fashion won me over easily.
If you enjoy old school spy movies, or action movies in general, I can recommend Kingsman without reserve. The pacing is good, the action is crisp, and the characters are fun. Most fans of action movies will also enjoy it.
Here Be Spoilers
Going in, I had three worries.
The first was that the movie trailer showed off the best action scene and that the rest of the movie would be comparatively dull.
The second was that the young male lead would be annoying when paired up with Colin Firth, like some sort of idiotic Watson created to provide “street cred” for his more aristocratic, intellectual mentor.
The third was that Kingsman is a Mark Millar piece. Mark Millar is the creative force behind the comics that led to Wanted and Kickass. He follows a fairly standard formula in those pieces, taking a mundane, everyman protagonist and putting them in an unlikely situation where they blossom into a badass in increasingly spectacular action pieces. Along the way their mentor dies and the come into their own, saving the day. Pretty much standard, if well-presented, male empowerment and escapism. I was worried that Kingsman would be too similar to the other movies.
The action sequences were excellent all around, although the climactic fight did leave something to be desired. I was pleased at the pacing throughout and glad that the trailer did not give away everything.
Taron Egerton does a good job as the punkish “Eggsy” who eventually blossoms from a young punk with a broken family to a superspy. He manages to carry the film well enough enough that when Colin Firth, Samuel L Jackson, or Michael Caine were not on screen I was not immediately annoyed. Better yet, although “Eggsy” was portrayed a being lower class and a thug, he was not, at any point portrayed as stupid, nor did his “street smarts” win the day, both of which are annoying tropes. Instead he is a young man with real promise which is dashed against the hopes of poverty and a broken family, but manages to rise up with a little help. He even goes back and helps his mom. Much better than I was expecting, to be honest.
As for the third point… well… if you filed the plot down to an outline it would be almost exactly the same as every other movie based on Mark Millars work. And yet despite my fears in this regard being fully realized, I still enjoyed the movie, which is very interesting.
The thing is Kingsman manages to break the Millar formula in an unexpected fashion. Despite the underdog protagonist escaping his horrible life into this secret world of ultra-violence and awesome empowerment, this movie manages to be Charming in a way that neither Wanted, nor the Kickass series were. Here is my take on how:
- Old School British Charm: I am beginning to think that the idea of the gentleman is coming back into fashion, albeit nostalgically. Call it the Downton Abbey effect if you want. The thing is in a world full of bloodthirsty, visceral protagonists someone with manners stands out. With the increasingly shrill screaming coming from 24 hour news channels I have to say having someone with a little subtlety in an action movie is refreshing.
- The Kingsmen: The idea of the Kingsmen is very interesting. I enjoyed the little rituals they enacted and the unique ways in which they presented themselves. The organization itself is charming, especially since they did not try to gloss over the flaws inherent in a spy agency run almost like a gentleman’s club.
- A Nod to Class Warfare: The idea of class is dealt with very cleverly in Kingsman, including references to My Fair Lady and similar works. I enjoyed the idea that the Kingsmen are a very traditional, conservative organization with all of the baggage that develops with that. I also enjoy that the main villain decides that he has to “save the earth” by engaging in eugenics along class lines without even making a big deal about it. Nicely done.
- Smart is cool: I have always felt in many Bond movies that intelligence is presented as a form of aberration. in the newest Bond movies this very purposeful. On the other hand all of the main characters in Kingsmen, good or evil, are smart. There is little evidence of anti-intellectualism. Even Eggsy, a street thug with an attitude problem, turns out to be very smart and not just an adrenaline junky. Colin Firth and Michale Caine have the brains as well as the suits, of course. And, Samuel L Jackson, as the villain is quirky but his strange personality is presented as problems separate from his brilliance rather than the result of it.
- Family Matters: Last but not least, they make a real effort throughout the movie to show that family matters. For me the high point of the movie is not Eggsy saving the world, it is him arriving home, telling his mom he has a job and getting her away from her abusive boyfriend. It is little family moments like this that humanize the movie and help it show a lot of heart.
In all, I enjoyed Kingsman. My criticisms are mostly with secondary characters. I felt the female characters were pretty sub-par for Millar, who is known for creating bad-ass female characters like Fox and Hit Girl. I also found the trio of upper crust students who mock Eggsy during training to be utterly devoid of personality and unworthy of screen time. That’s it. Watch it.