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Thursday, February 19, 2015

Kingsman: The Secret Service

Sorry it's a bit late but a new Matthew Vaughn film is always worth talking about.

Also, there has been a weird bit of controversy to do with the ending of the film, which is something I'll address in the post-script of the actual review.

Based on the original comic book series by Mark Millar (Kick Ass, The Ultimates) and Dave Gibbons (Watchmen), Kingsman: The Secret Service is the first major comic book movie of the year. It also sets the bar quite high for for what's to follow it.

Director Matthew Vaughn is hardly a stranger to comic book adaptations, as he directed X-Men: First Class and, more pertinently, Kick Ass and, in spite of the existence of a Kick Ass 2 film, Kingsman feels like the real followup to that superhero-deconstructing cult hit. Again teaming up with Kick Ass screenwriter Jane Goldman and working closely with Millar and Gibbons, Kingsman: The Secret Service does for spy films what Kick Ass did for superheroes.

It's not simply a deconstruction of the spy genre but is a celebration of it too - in particular the more outlandish Connery and Moore James Bond films. I haven't yet read the original comic but Millar's habit for overdoing the edgy cynicism in most of his work (something that he's finally starting to back away from, it has to be said) is tempered by Vaughn's uncanny ability to bring real heart to his adaptations and Kingsman is certainly no exception. Sure, Kingsman constantly pokes fun at the spy genre and is both ludicrously violent and quite sweary but it clearly also has plenty of affection for both its spy-genre trappings and its characters.

The plot is somewhat convoluted in the way that those old spy movies usually were but, in short, it's about a young hooligan named Gary "Eggsy" Unwin (Taron Egerton) who is nominated by Harry Hart (Colin Firth), a colleague of his late father, for a possible spot in the Kingsman, an independent and international spy organisation, but even if he survives the deadly demands of his training, he still has to deal with billionaire Richmond Valentine (Samuel L Jackson) whose solution to our current environmental crisis calls for nothing less than the extermination of most of the human race.

What follows is a stereotype-puncturing mix of post-modernism, bawdy humour, increasingly mad action scenes, oddball villains and even a pinch of genuine emotion; all filtered through an aesthetic that brings to mind James Bond at both his most suave and most unrealistic. It's a blast from beginning to end, basically, and is even more fun the second time around.

It's true, it's probably not quite as perfect as Kick Ass, which only looks better and better the further we get away from it, but it's hardly too far off either. Vaughn's direction is as fresh and energetic as ever and the fact that he self-finances his films means that once again its high production values never quite overshadow the fact that this is a personal vision  that's mercifully free of by-committee tampering or Hollywood tempering. The script is witty, the performances uniformly excellent by newcomers and veterans alike and its editing and cinematography combine to make a truly fast-paced comedy-action flick where both the jokes and the intricate action scenes hit their marks with frightening regularity.

It's terrifically enjoyable stuff, basically, and I for one cannot wait to see what Millar, Goldman and Vaughn come up with next.

And, oh, that church scene. Holy. Crap.

Incidentally, without getting into spoilers, there is a joke right near the end of the film that has drawn a frankly astounding amount of criticism as something that really isn't acceptable in our "post-feminist" world. Personally, despite the fact that I do consider myself to be something of a feminist, I really don't agree with labeling this scene sexist or, worse, misogynistic. Quite aside for the fact that it's an obvious homage to the womanizing tradition of the older Bonds and to the endings of one or two Roger Moore Bond flicks in particular, people seem to overlook the fact that the woman in question isn't just a sex object but is shown to be one of the films more empowered, even heroic, characters.

Yes, the joke is rather sexually charged, perhaps even tasteless, but the negative reactions to it do seem to fall into line with the worst of the 1970s' so-called "Second Wave" of feminism where weariness of leering sexual objectification somehow transformed into humourless prudishness of the kind where even 18th century puritanical Christians would probably tell them to lighten the hell up. It might not be the best gag in the world - for some it might not even be a good gag - but the averse reaction to it by critics who I otherwise greatly admire and respect (guess who?) just perplexes the hell out of me.    

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