Box Office Democracy: “Kingsman: The Secret Service”
Kingsman: The Secret Service is, hopefully, a watershed moment for spy action movies. Much in the way The Bourne Identity did in 2002, Kingsman has such a fresh new take on the genre that it begs to be the new standard these films are compared to. Kingsman could have so easily been the lazy bit of satire I feared it would be in the run up to the movie and it avoided nearly all of the pitfalls that could have felled it. It did step in to one big pit and while it put a bit of a crimp in my enjoyment of the movie it was at least a spectacular and bold piece of failure and I suppose tasteless and vexing is always better than boring.
Matthew Vaughn directs action sequences in Kingsman that are nothing short of brilliant. He shoots action with wider angles and without cuts like they’re musical numbers from back in the era when Hollywood stars could actually dance. He does this without sacrificing the complexity we’ve come to expect from a modern fight scene, something from the post-Tarantino, post-Yuen Woo-Ping era. Kingsman makes 54 year-old Colin Firth look like the baddest man alive at 54 years old. He looks like he would pick Liam Neeson out of his teeth. The fight sequences are exhilarating to watch and should be the new standard for any director looking to make something visually interesting but not too proud to crib an existing style. (I’m looking at you, 98% of directors working today.)
There’s nothing really special in the story but it feels designed like that. Kingsman feels very much like the Kick-Ass of spy movies (and look at that, both Mark Millar properties) in that it wants to do new and different things with the clichéd iconography not reinvent the wheel. We have a troubled kid, a superspy who owes a debt to the troubled kid’s late father, a plan to exterminate the world’s population, copious amounts of training montage— the whole kit and caboodle, really. There are a couple interesting bits of character work, like Samuel L. Jackson playing a villain who wants to kill billions of people but can’t stand the sight of blood. We have interesting bits of design, like Gazelle the lead henchwoman who has her legs replaced with deadly blade version of the running legs they make for amputees. They also paid tribute to the patron saint of English spy actors by giving a role to Michael Caine. Without the dizzying action sequences Kingsman would be a mediocre movie, but the framework is enough to support an excellent movie even if it isn’t excellent in its own right; like an Ikea bookshelf with a Faberge egg on it.
Then there’s the matter of the joke that almost ruined the entire movie for me. This joke is getting rather infamous, an article about it is currently the third result in a Google search for “Matthew Vaughn” and it probably deserves that level of scrutiny. There’s an anal sex joke that is a kind of running joke for the last ten minutes or so of the film, culminating in the last shot of the movie being a shot of the about-to-be-penetrated butt in question. That we go from this shot to a title card honoring Vaughn’s mother for teaching him to be a gentleman is apparently not part of the joke. It’s crude and inelegant. In an interview Vaughn says it’s a send up of the innuendo that permeates the Bond films, but simply doing a raunchier more explicit version of that trope without offering any commentary on it is lazy and the crass execution makes it stand out. It came right at the end so it leaves a sour taste in the mouth and it’s so off-base that it goes back and puts the gender politics of the rest of the film in a bad light. Suddenly it’s a little more in focus that as capable as Gazelle was they had to make sure her boss patted her on the ass, it becomes more memorable that the female lead of the film Roxy was the character who was most consistently afraid of things when the male characters never showed fear. It was a joke that missed the mark so badly, it hurt my appreciation for the rest of the film and I loved so much about the rest of the film. I hope Kingsman will be remembered for the excellent work in it and that this joke will fade and won’t overshadow it in my memory but we’ll have to wait and see, this could end up as either my favorite movie to catch on cable or one that I won’t watch past the church scene.