Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014)

*. I know I shouldn’t be surprised — I should probably stop being surprised by anything relating to the movie business — but I was still brought up short by an interview with Matthew Vaughn about the origins of the movie Kingsman. According to Vaughn “It started in a pub with Mark [Millar, author of the Kingsman comic books], and we were drunk . . . We sort of were complaining about how spy movies had become really quite serious. We said, ‘Let’s do a fun [one].'”
*. The reason this surprised me is that spy movies have been sent up and parodied ever since there were spy movies. The first James Bond movie, Dr. No, was released in 1962. Casino Royale, a madcap Bond parody and Kingsman‘s closest analog, came out in 1967. Ever since then the genre has been getting mocked and ridiculed pretty much non-stop. Even the parodies are franchises, from Austin Powers to Spy Kids.
*. Which I guess is a long way of saying that Kingsman: The Secret Service is nothing new. It’s a Bond parody down to its shoelaces (though I have to note in passing that according to co-screenwriter Jane Goldman the last thing they wanted to do was make a parody, which is another thing I just can’t figure out). There have been some adjustments made to the times, so that the plot is even more cartoonish and the action even more like a video game, but that’s about it. That’s all that makes this “a postmodern love letter to spy films” (Vaughn).
*. What were you expecting? This is the kind of movie Vaughn (who previously directed Kick-Ass and X-Men: First Class) does. Comic books and video games. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, if it’s your thing. Though I have to once again register my dismay at how shootouts are now all being filmed as though they’re play action from a first-person shooter video game, complete with visual overlays. I’ve complained of this before (see my notes on John Wick and Hardcore Henry, both released around the same time as Kingsman). I’m tired of it. It’s time for someone to come up with something new.

*. About the only new wrinkle is the gentle ribbing of the British class system, which is a theme Vaughn has a fondness for (see, for example, Layer Cake). But that’s not much for novelty.
*. Otherwise . . . Samuel L. Jackson is the megalomaniac villain with an alpine lair and an army of mooks. He doesn’t have a cat but he does have a lisp and an exotic bodyguard. Q is now Merlin. Michael Caine shows up just because you couldn’t imagine him not showing up. And those are Harry Palmer’s glasses, after all.
*. I wasn’t sure where the Kingsmen were getting their money from. Is it all old money? That’s been running out lately, and they have lots of rent to pay. Maybe they’ve invested in Richmond Valentine’s company, seeing as his tech fortune is the way of the future. So should we feel sad then for the Savile Row dinosaurs and the death of the code of the gentlemen?
*. Some people were offended by the politics. The bad guy was an environmental activist just trying to deal with the problem of global climate change! Jason Ward had this to say in The Guardian: “It is an unpleasant, carelessly violent cartoon, in thrall to the establishment and utterly contemptuous of women and the working class.”
*. I think this goes too far. The politics of Kingsman seem muddled to me, and I’m not sure it’s saying much about anything, even the class system.

*. About the only real political moment in the film that I registered was Colin Firth’s assault upon the church congregation. This is a scene that put off a lot of reviewers (myself included) but I think that it just might have been meant as a satire of political correctness run amok. Most of the movie up until then had treated violence as cartoonishly non-lethal (the gang of chavs at the pub recover from their beating at the hands of Firth in remarkably short order, the girl who drowns doesn’t really drown, etc.). But the rabidly racist, anti-Semitic and homophobic churchgoers can be freely slaughtered without compunction. They are not among the secular saved.
*. Neither are the toffs though, as the rapture of the aristocrats involves all of their heads exploding in inexplicable psychedelic puffs of smoke. So, politically, it all seems like a wash to me. Presumably Valentine will be left to mate with his bladerunner to repopulate the world. All of the chaos appears to have been borrowed from Casino Royale, but I don’t know if that’s going back too far for this generation of filmmakers. When Vaughn and Millar talk about Casino Royale in the making-of featurette “Panel to Screen” they’re referring to the 2006 Daniel Craig vehicle.
*. I’ll end on a final note of surprise. Why were so many people offended by this film? As already noted, I didn’t see it as having any kind of political message. It’s just another round of brainless comic book crap. I didn’t even mind the product placement for McDonald’s. For some reason Mark Kermode judged the “bum note” at the end “completely unforgiveable,” but for the life of me I can’t see what got his dander up. It just seemed to me to be the traditional Bond ending updated for the Internet porn generation. So what? I mean, I didn’t think it was very funny (I didn’t think anything in the movie was very funny), but I sure didn’t find it offensive.
*. So I wasn’t offended. I wasn’t surprised. I wasn’t impressed. But I was sort of entertained. That was enough to guarantee a sequel anyway.

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