Kingsman Raises The Bar For 007 And 2015 AlikePosted: February 13, 2015
At this point, having fun might be the most important aspect of moviegoing for me. While this sort of perspective tends to be the rallying cry of the troglodytes that rush out to the latest Michael Bay film and get annoyed when people question the logic of things like “story” or “characters”, it does seem to be the great equalizer for me right now when comparing two equally well-crafted films. Furthermore I still greatly appreciate films and filmmakers that are willing and able to play with genre conventions and archetypes to craft films that are both familiar and original, that do new things while also taking you completely by surprise with a new brand of awesomeness. With all of that in mind, it’s not too surprising that I absolutely loved Kingsman: The Secret Service and will highly recommend it to anyone with a pulse. It’s a film that not just returns goofy fun to the super-spy genre, but that sets the tone for a year that will hopefully be full of films that find this same balance between fun and craft.
The initial pitch that comic book writer Mark Millar gave for Kingsman (which he originally wrote as The Secret Service with artist Dave Gibbons) was “James Bond meets My Fair Lady” and that is a perfect summation of the story. We follow a young punk known as Eggsy (Taron Egerton, making his presence known with a bang) as he is recruited and trained as a potential member of the eponymous apolitical spy organization, under the guidance of Harry Hart (Colin Firth). Running parallel to Eggsy’s training is Harry’s investigation of a mysterious rash of kidnappings, and how it ties into tech mogul Richmond Valentine (Samuel L Jackson). While I won’t spoil the hilariously awesome true nature of Valentine’s plan, I will say that it is classic Roger Moore-era Bond villain stuff, complete with a motivation that is sort of understandable and very politically pointed, but being pursued in a cartoonish and insane fashion.
Between these two narratives (the street kid being recruited to an elite collection of blue-blood badasses, the mogul trying to change the world through his own selfishly narrow means), Matthew Vaughn, Jane Goldman & co actually end up making some sly commentary about class structure and the entitled attitudes of the rich and famous. The more obvious (and easily-agreed-upon) angle of this comes from Eggsy’s story, where this blue-collar street kid is selected to compete against a collection of blue-blood, upper-crust snobs for an opportunity to join a blue-blood, upper-crust organization. Eggsy is clearly judged to be less-than because of his origins, and his uncouthness leads to him being mocked and disrespected regularly by his peers (not that they would say they were equals at all). The only person who doesn’t tear him down is Roxy (Sophie Cookson), a fellow trainee in a similar boat because she’s *gasp* a girl. The whole subplot is clearly a judgment on old-school class structure, and the belief of the rich that anyone coming from more humble beginnings is inherently unworthy of anything.
But Vaughn and company don’t stop there, as intellectual elitism is not spared their criticism or judgment either. Without giving too much away, our villain Valentine is a world-renowned mogul and philanthropist, with many famous friends and cohorts, and his motives ultimately stem from a complete disregard for average people’s ability to take care of themselves or their world. Vaughn and Goldman do a great job of driving home the idea that, even though such people are driven by more aspirational ideas, and are less mean-spirited than the one-percenters, they can still be just as entitled and obnoxious and judgmental as anyone else, and just as dangerous as a result. In addressing this side of the equation as well, Vaughn illustrates the idea that superiority and entitlement are vices enjoyed by liberal and conservative, progressive and old-fashioned alike, and that regardless of motive or goal they are wrong, on some level or another. As the story of Eggsy demonstrates, anyone is capable of growing beyond themselves, and beyond their humble beginnings and faults, to become a better-rounded contributor to the world around them. They just need to be given the proper opportunities to do so, be it through education, financial support, or bulletproof umbrella-guns.
But besides these more cerebral underpinnings, Kingsman is a flat-out blast, a soon-to-be-classic of the action genre that is as funny as it is badass. Vaughn brings an anarchic, frenetic energy to the action beats, and a rude sense of humor to the whole film, both of which recall his previous film Kick-Ass (also an adaptation of a Mark Millar comic). Much has been made of Colin Firth’s transformation into an action star here, and he does indeed rule his sequences. In particular there is the church scene, which is one of the most intense action scenes I’ve ever seen that might have usurped Devil’s Rejects as Best Use of “Freebird” In A Movie. And special mention should be made of Sophia Boutella as Gazelle, Valentine’s chief henchperson who might be one of the best encapsulations of the phrase “living weapon”. The action also carries a great deal of variety, as Vaughn is constantly mixing in different situations and dynamics to keep the audience and the characters on their toes. Through it all, the humor keeps things fun and engaging, in the exact way that many of my favorite films do. And Vaughn also continues to prove himself very adept in idiosyncratic music choices, which brings another layer of fun to the table.
Kingsman ultimately works so well for me precisely because it is able to be an absurd amount of fun while also delivering some sly cultural commentary. All of the major elements of the film- the spy movie nostalgia, the thematic underpinnings, the wild action and goofy humor- are all tied together by the basic idea that you are what you make of yourself. It’s the idea that you shouldn’t allow people to put you down or dictate who you are based on circumstance, and that those who might try to do this should go fuck themselves. By combining so many layers, visceral, cerebral and emotional, Kingsman feels like both a perfect summation of Matthew Vaughn’s career so far, and the perfect sort of film for the moviegoer that I am right now. And for people who aren’t me, Kingsmen is a great ride, and should be an absolute must-see for anyone who appreciates good storytelling… and did I mention it’s fun?