In one of the first scenes of Kingsman: The Secret Service, a devastatingly gorgeous lady cuts a man in half with her bowed metal legs that obviously serve as her primary weapon. If that’s confusing, I get it. I’m still confused.
Director Matthew Vaughn specializes in a stylized violence—the raw brutality of Kick Ass or slick energy of X-Men: First Class. He never wastes an opportunity to smash, slice, or blow someone to bits. That talent, or obsession, is on full display in Kingsman.
Kingsman centers around a secret, independent, thoroughly British spy organization—a modern band of knights. All the spies are given code names like Arthur, Lancelot, Galahad—you know, King Arthur stuff. (It would be interesting if someone made a movie about that.) The film also centers around Eggsy, played by Taron Egerton—a rough and tumble lad from the wrong side of the London streets, compared to the uppity Kingsmen. To the generous, gentlemanly consideration of Galahad (Colin Firth) Eggsy enters into training for the hallowed gentlemen’s cult. And so the boys are off to training and Galahad is off on his own quest investigating the mass disappearances of nearly anyone of distinguish on earth and a billionaire played by Samuel L. Jackson who is dumbfoundingly behind it all.
In Vaughn’s films of note, his attention to violence usually bumps against something else—the youthful innocence of the kids in Kick Ass or the morality of the young Charles Xavier in X-Men. Here, he tries to marry it to being a gentleman—though in the film being a gentlemen seems to amount to dressing well and kicking the ass of anyone who disses your fine threads. So the violence isn’t grounded in or against anything.
Kingsman is part James Bond, part X-Men, but mostly the fantasy of a 13-year-old. The characters quip at times that “this ain’t that kind of movie,” that movie being James Bond. But the film has the wrong idea of what movie it is not. It’s a comic book movie, not only because it’s based on a comic book, but because of the action, how the film flips from scene to scene, the cartoonish action sequences.
It should be fun—Firth in his immaculate suits laying waste to foes in bars and even a church, Eggsy and the gang competing for Lancelot’s vacant seat at the rectangular table, and even Jackson playing with a lisp throughout the film. It’s not, though. The Kingsman plays with itself more than it does with the audience. Like Bond and all the other comic book movies to come out over the past years, Kingsman tries to build a world we’d want to be part of—forever, hopefully. The world has color—mostly blood red. The world has style—the gentlemanly kind. This secret world, however, doesn’t have characters.
Returning to the lady with sword-legs. What happened to her actual legs? Why didn’t she get, you know, normal prosthetics? Why is she working for a cartoonish villain? A legitimate answer to any of these questions might make us deplore or empathize with her, but, oh wait, she just sliced that dude’s arm off so who cares, right?
There’s no spark between the two young trainees Eggsy and Roxy. Both pretty, both brave, they strike something in the form of admirable respect. She stands up for him against the snide of the privileged recruits and he helps her overcome her fear of heights, but there’s no romantic spark. There’s no need for them to tear some clothes off and go at it 50 Shades of Grey style, but the audience is left searching for something to care about.
Firth is the only actor who carries himself with any ease in the film, who takes the film’s larking tone with any of the required self-seriousness. He could have been a more homely Bond, back in the day. Mark Hamill makes a welcome appearance as a climate scientists, in what seems like only a warmup for Star Wars: The Force Awakens later in the year.
The film could have settled into either of its freeway plots and found an interesting story to tell. It could have settled into any of the wide ranging questions that float comfortably above the surface. Should we be uneasy about technology? Have we poisoned our planet? Do Englishmen really love Guinness?
Instead, it goes for an idiotic mish-mash. It’s no gentleman at all.
Featured Image Courtesy of 20th Century Fox