Tuesday, June 30, 2015
Kingsman: The Secret Service (Matthew Vaughn, 2014)
Matthew Vaughn’s Kingsman: The Secret Service adapts a comic book by Mark Millar, who also wrote the source material for Vaughn’s similarly wantonly violent Kick-Ass (2010). I remember liking Kick-Ass, but Kingsman, although admirable in some aspects, kind of just made me sick. An early scene depicts a James Bond-esque secret agent getting sliced in half lengthwise, and right off you know this is going to be that kind of movie—devoid of restraint, good taste, or a moral center, a movie that tries to sell you on the notion that graphic violence without context is something pure and fun.
Kingsman’s most remarkable sequence features Colin Firth, in a hypno-induced mad rage, single-handedly dispatching about fifty likewise crazed civilians in a little over three minutes. Although not actually filmed in one take, the sequence employs some slick editing, camerawork, and stunt-doubling to seamlessly stitch together footage to transform the former Mr. Darcy into an unstoppable badass killing machine. But, even though the brawl is exquisitely shot and choreographed, and it should be cool to see Colin Firth going on a rampage, I really couldn’t applaud a scene that seemed to revel in the massacre of a bunch of innocent non-combatants. The movie does tell us that these are bad people, but, even so, in this moment at least, they are in an altered state and not acting of their own will. The Firth character, once back in his right mind, remarks on how horrible all that killing was, but there is no sense of conviction that the filmmakers share this sentiment. They clearly mean for the audience to be exhilarated and to cheer Colin Firth on through the slaughter, and any lip service to the contrary is simply insulting.
Obviously, the movie is not to be taken seriously. But an irreverent tone doesn’t automatically entitle it to a laugh either. Another scene has hundreds of people’s heads exploding into fireworks, including that of the president of the United States, among other world leaders. Is this one of those “British humor” things that I’m just never going to get?
Certainly, I’ve enjoyed other, perhaps no less violent movies before, but something about the violence in Kingsman just rubs me the wrong way. Maybe it’s that the context is so threadbare, so the violence feels blatantly for its own sake. The characters are all woefully underdeveloped, giving viewers little reason to root for any of them, the charismatic Firth aside. The earlier part of the story focuses on a bunch of young Britons competing for an opening in the Kingsman agency. After the candidates’ tests concluded, I wondered if the movie could have done without that subplot altogether, because the trials were so predictable, and the protagonist’s would-be rivals and friends alike so nameless and faceless, that it just felt like a waste of my time. Except, in hindsight, that “subplot” may have been half or more of the movie’s running time, so I don’t suppose there would have been much left without it.
The bits that I sincerely enjoyed were the scenes where Colin Firth was schooling his apprentice on how to be a gentleman. I have no idea if any of the stuff he says about signet rings going on the left hand and whatnot is real, but he sells it all with such quintessentially English dignity that I was almost inspired to take notes, because, after all, who wouldn’t want to be as cool and classy as Colin Firth?