Movie Review - Kingsman: The Secret Service

Taron Egerton (left) and Colin Firth
in 'Kingsman: The Secret Service'
The Kingsman is a group of underground spies in England. All of them have names that reference King Arthur's court or the Knights of the Round Table. Based on a comic book, it's not a league of extraordinary gentlemen. It's a league of just gentlemen, gentlemen who are trained and equipped as if they were all James Bond, Jason Bourne and Jack Bauer, or any other agent with the initials J.B., all rolled into one.

Yes, this is a British film with a wealth of British actors, but I'm going to start with the American actors. Namely, I'm starting with Samuel L. Jackson who stars as Richmond Valentine, a billionaire who presides over a phone and Internet company. He's also the film's resident villain. The cheekiness of how director and co-writer Matthew Vaughn regards all of this is evident when Jackson first appears on screen. He's opposite Mark Hamill who is famous for starring in the original Star Wars (1977). Jackson also starred in the more recent prequels of Star Wars. Jackson and Hamill's confrontation is one big wink at the camera.

Of course, the cheekiness shines through before Jackson steps into frame. This movie has brutal and cartoonish violence the likes of which you'd see in a Quentin Tarantino film. In fact, Jackson is affecting a speech impediment not that dissimilar, performance-wise, from his Stephen character in Tarantino's Django Unchained. The silly shootouts or comical martial arts scenes like in Kill Bill are supremely amplified here and even taken to its ultimate extreme in a climatic church sequence that trumps the frenzied, quickly adroit and efficient, well-dressed killer recently epitomized in Keanu Reeves' John Wick.

Vaughn certainly revels in the genre, most often referred to as gun fu films. It's like kung fu films but only hand-to-hand combat is supplanted or enhanced with fast mastery of ballistics. Vaughn takes similar queues as John Wick where the goal is to coldly annihilate, often through point-black head shots, as many men with handgun fire as possible. Cruel and merciless deaths are the currency for entertainment.

Colin Firth stars as Harry Hart aka Galahad, a high-ranking member of the Kingsman. He espouses all these platitudes about being a gentleman. All the while, he shows his latest recruit Gary Unwin nicknamed Eggsy all the gadgets necessary for fighting and killing opponents. Gentleman of course is a term not equal to pacifist or humanist, but there is a point that is never fully squared.

Galahad brings Eggsy, played by Taron Egerton, into the Kingsman Academy, as it were. Eggsy begins his training to possibly become a Kingsman himself. Unfortunately, there is only one available spot and about a half-dozen or so other recruits vying for the opening. Eventually, the training eliminates all but two candidates, Eggsy and another. The deciding factor comes down to whether or not Eggsy will kill an innocent life and he can't do it.

This point of contention is never fully squared. It's addressed in a rather diversionary way. We're supposed to believe that the Kingsman are the good guys, but the training pushes each member to the point where killing an innocent life is how one proves him or herself. Then, what is it really? Eggsy thankfully resists it, but immediately Galahad scolds him for resisting and essentially not becoming a cold-blooded killer.

There's also another scene where Galahad beats up a group of young men in a moment reminiscent of Denzel Washington in The Equalizer. At the end, it's learned that Galahad didn't have to physically hurt them. He could have simply put them all to sleep with a tranquilizer, so why doesn't he? He simply reinforces that this group thinks violence is the answer, even when other options are at hand. It's a lesson that he certainly wants to teach.

It's a lesson that you'd expect from the villain but not from the so-called heroes. It is interesting how this film basically shows or dares to show the immorality and heartlessness that Darren Aronofsky failed to show in Noah (2014) as both dabble with the notion of genocide or in effect the near extinction of the human race. At the same time, Jackson got to preview the preposterous scenario that will be featured in his next film, outside the Marvel films, the adaptation of Stephen King's Cell, a book that turns all cell phones in the world into a weapon of mass destruction.

To that scenario, this movie commits an egregious offense that turned me off this film once and for all. This might be considered a spoiler, but this film essentially kills whom we're led to assume is President Barack Obama. Not only did this film kill America's 44th President, it also did so by revealing that he had betrayed pretty much every American, allowing them all to die. Yes, I know it's a joke, but some jokes aren't funny.

There are some funny moments. Like references, intentionally or not, to Jackson's Marvel films where he plays essentially the leader of a secret spy agency with advanced technology. There are also some meta-movie moments where Jackson's character in particular will comment on the fact this movie is defying spy movie cliches.

The only action scene that really impressed me was the one that mimicked Felix Baumgartner's supersonic free fall, a moment more thrilling than watching this movie's version of Hammer Girl from The Raid 2 or Lady Deathstrike from X-Men 2.

Two Stars out of Five.
Rated R for sequences of strong violence, language and some sexual content.
Running Time: 2 hrs. and 9 mins.


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