A British spy organisation recruits a young man from the wrong side of the tracks.
Matthew Vaughn, 2014
The Kingsmen, a secret organisation of tailors-turned-spies, lose one of their own on an operation in the Middle East. The organisation uses the names of the Knights of the Round Table as their codenames, and Galahad, AKA Harry Hart (Colin Firth), takes it upon himself to inform the dead man’s family of his death. The man’s young son Eggsy (Taron Egerton) goes quickly off the tracks after the death of his father; his mother hooks up with a local crime lord and the brilliant but underachieving Eggsy finds himself getting into fights. When he lands in jail, he calls on Harry to help him; Harry then nominates him as a potential new Kingsman after another of their ranks dies. Eggsy goes through intense training in competition with a number of other recruits, easily outstripping most of his richer counterparts. Meanwhile, software genius and climate change activist Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson) develops a mysterious yet obviously evil plan to do something terrible along with his killer number two Gazelle (Sofia Boutella), who kills people with her sword-like prosthetic legs.
Kingsman presents itself as a modern, self-referential spy movie, but for me it completely missed the mark. I didn’t understand this movie at all until I saw the name Mark Millar in the credits. Suddenly everything made sense: the uneven tone, the gleeful hardcore violence, the horrible mistreatment of anyone who isn’t a straight white dude, and the weird reactionary politics under the very thin veneer of a pro-equality message. Harry’s stated outlook is that being from the upper class isn’t as important as the content of one’s character (I know, so modern), but that’s at direct odds with everything in the film; in fact, ultimately, Eggsy is gentrified to assimilate into the upper class in his bulletproof suit, camera glasses, and weaponised umbrella. Every single woman in the film is treated horribly, paying off with a rapey take on a James Bond riff at the end of the film while the lead woman, Eggsy’s competitor for entry into the Kingsmen, is kept out of the action entirely. The PoC bad guys are both in some way disabled: Gazelle with her legs, and Valentine with his infuriating lisp (also, I want to point out that they actually reference Trading Places in the dialogue, while the bad guy of the movie IS A BLACK MAN NAMED VALENTINE. AND HE’S THE VILLAIN. WTF, Millar?) My assumption is that Valentine’s lisp and discomfort at seeing blood are intended to feminise and depower him, which is pretty nasty. I really disliked his performance here, though I’m in the minority. I DID really enjoy Sofia Boutella, who stole every scene she was in, but she was pretty underused. There’s a particularly nasty scene where an entire church full of Westboro-lite Americans are systematically and brutally slaughtered, which is played off as essentially a joke. To be clear, I love Millar and director Matthew Vaughn’s other collaboration Kick-Ass (thought not its sequel) and I’m not squeamish about violence; it was the tone of this movie that really bothered me.
All that said, there was some fun to be had. Colin Firth does put in a really fun, light performance that’s pretty unusual for him, which is fun to watch. I really enjoyed Mark Strong as the Kingsmen’s tech genius Merlin, who was super sexy in his glasses and jumpers and Scottish accent. There were moments I enjoyed, some of which did involve violence. Taron Egerton makes a charming lead, and I’d love to see more of him in the future. Mark Hamill hams up a small role with a great accent, and there’s something neat about the aesthetic of the Kingsmen, even if their actual purpose is never entirely explained. I got to the end of the movie without really understanding their ethos. Harry talks a lot about being a “gentleman”, but then they constantly put their recruits through horrible challenges before pulling the rug from under them, which is baffling to me. It means they’re going to end up bringing in someone who is willing to do something their entire ethos is against. There are just so many holes in this movie (how the hell did Valentine get so many people to agree with his plan?!). Judging by the uproarious laughter coming from the guy a few seats down from me in the screening I went to and the generally positive reviews, there’s clearly an audience for this terrible movie. It just isn’t me.
Kingsman: The Secret Service on IMDb