The internet provides many things we once found elsewhere: rants, recipes, porn, personality quizzes. It’s the main place I look for movie news and trailers, so it’s pretty rare when I go to the theater and see a preview for something that’s not even on my radar. Such was the case many months ago when Mek and I went to see a movie (I’ve long since forgotten which one) and saw a trailer for Kingsman: The Secret Service. We turned to each other and were like, “What was that, and when do we get to watch it?”
Well, we watched it last week. And while I do have some problems with the movie, Kingsman is overall pretty damn fun.
Harry (Colin Firth) recruits Eggsy (Taron Egerton), a petty criminal and the son of a fallen colleague, for a shot at becoming a gentleman super spy. Meanwhile, Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson) and his, er, particularly cutting associate Gazelle (Sofia Boutella) plot something appropriately fiendish. (If you’ve seen the movie, I’m sorry for the pun. No, that’s a lie, I’m not sorry at all.)
1. Lets begin with this movie’s strongest feature: the action.
MAN. The fight scenes in this movie are cartoonish, violent, fast-paced, and AWESOME. Like, intensely awesome. Just in case the capital letters aren’t indicative enough of how much I enjoyed this, let me be clear: one fight scene in this film has an extremely good chance of winning Best Fight Scene of 2015, and I say that knowing The Avengers: Age of Ultron, Mad Max: Fury Road, and Terminator: Genisys are still to come. Some people deplore this level of gratuitous violence. I, on the other hand, welcome it with open arms.
2. There are, however, aspects of the film that I’m less enamored with. Namely, the female characters.
I know. I’m shocked too. Imagine my shocked face. Cause it’s shocked.
To be fair, Gazelle is okay. I mean, she’s more of a Badass Female Type, not an actual character, but she’s enjoyable enough to watch and she has a few funny exchanges with Valentine, so I’ll take her. But Roxy (Sophie Cookson) — a potential spy recruit pictured above — is so utterly bland that I yawned just looking at her. You know that one character who pops up in high school movies, who’s pretty and popular and so, so sweet and just happens to be dating King Douchebag? That’s basically Roxy; she’s just not dating King Douchebag. The majority of her role in this movie is to say things like, “Just leave him alone!” and “Don’t listen to him, Eggsy!” Because from almost the second we meet her, Roxy’s priorities seem to be less about becoming a Kingsman and more about making sure Eggsy’s precious feelings aren’t hurt. Vomit.
I can’t remember how many Kingsmen candidates go through the interview/training process, but I’m going to take a rough stab and say there are about ten. Ratio of male to female recruits? 8 to 2, and it’s no surprise when the female candidate who isn’t Roxy gets eliminated fast. (Sorry, I’m not even counting that shit as a spoiler because it’s ridiculously obvious who the final contenders for the position are.)
Other female characters include Eggsy’s stereotypical, victimized mother and the Princess. I have a lot to say about both, especially the Princess, but unfortunately that will have to wait until the Spoiler Section. For now, let me just say that neither exactly help a movie that’s already failing on the Worthwhile Female Characters scale.
3. And as much as I usually enjoy Samuel L. Jackson, I’m really not crazy about the lisp.
Now, I’ve seen that Valentine’s lisp was Jackson’s idea and I actually like the reasoning behind it, at least in theory. My problem is this: Jackson is not playing his typical Badass Motherfucker character. Valentine is a villain who causes great violence but can’t look upon it personally; he hates blood and is generally squeamish about getting his own hands dirty. And speech impediments are so often used in fiction to be synonymous with weakness, particularly when it comes to bad guys. Manly men and stone cold killers never have lisps; only sissy villains. You know, guys with mommy issues. If Jackson was playing Evil Nick Fury, I don’t think I’d mind it, but as is, I really wish he hadn’t used one.
4. Colin Firth is pretty great, though.
Millions of women swooned to Colin Firth when he manfully strode around the grounds in a wet shirt as the broody Mr. Darcy, but I came late to the Pride and Prejudice miniseries party and, frankly, enjoyed the Keira Knightley version more. (Yes, yes, I welcome your tomatoes and rage.) I did, of course, enjoy Colin Firth’s modern Mr. Darcy, particularly when he apologized for his rudeness and reindeer sweater, but it might have been his role in Love Actually that totally won me over on Firth’s charm. Still, the guy is an especially unlikely action movie star, so I was delighted to watch him in Kingsman, where he manages to retains all that posh charm from his previous films while just kicking the shit out of EVERYBODY. Fun performance and great casting here.
5. And our main star, Taron Egerton, is pretty solid too.
Eggsy is a funny and likable protagonist who made me laugh at several parts throughout the film. I’m completely unfamiliar with Egerton’s work apart from this, but I’d definitely be willing to watch him in more things.
6. This is, I believe, the fourth collaboration between Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman, and considering their other films together were Stardust, Kick-Ass, and X-Men: Days of Future Past, I’m likely to follow any future movies they create with interest. I’m particularly curious about Jane Goldman because it’s pretty rare when you hear about a female writer in Hollywood, particularly one who’s working in action and comic movies. That kind of thing is exciting to see, although unfortunately doesn’t stop me from having problems with some of the female characters in their work.
In the larger discussion of filmography, though, Kingsman felt very reminiscent of Kick-Ass to me, particularly in terms of its action, choreography, tone, and music. The soundtrack was pretty awesome — they use some songs, like “Free Bird” or “Pomp and Circumstance” to hilarious effect. Funny story about the music, though: Kingsman begins with the song “Money For Nothing,” which immediately made me smile. Shit, I thought, I haven’t heard that song in ages. I should listen to it again when I get home.
So later I’m at home, right, head-bobbing along to the song as I jot down some notes about the film, and either I’ve never heard the uncensored version before or this is just one of the many songs that I’ve never really noticed the lyrics to because suddenly I’m hearing “that little faggot with the earring and the makeup” and there’s like a cartoon SCREEEECH in my head, and I stop typing and am like, “Wait, WHAT?”
7. Finally, back to tone: like Kick-Ass, Kingsman has a lot of fun playing with tropes, only instead of superhero conventions, they’re playing with spy movie tropes. It’s actually a pretty enjoyable throwback to cheesy James Bond movies — one homage being the unfortunate exception — and while plagued with one or two plot conveniences, Kingsman is overall clever and funny and a pretty good time at the theater.
I just really wish I could change a few things about it.
First things first: in one of the film’s earliest scenes, Lancelot (Jack Davenport) tries to rescue Professor Arnold (Mark Hamill). I’m mentioning this less because of the scene’s plot relevance and more because I didn’t know either of these actors would be in the movie and was quite happy to see both. In fact, I was all like, “Hi, Jack Davenport! I didn’t know you were going to be here!” And then roughly sixty seconds later, I was like, “Bye, Jack Davenport! It was nice seeing you before you got all bisected!”
Mark Hamill’s inclusion was particularly awesome for two reasons: one, cause it’s Mark Hamill, and two, Kingsman is apparently loosely based on a comic by Mark Millar, and in the comic Mark Hamill himself gets abducted. It’s a nice nod to the source material. Unfortunately for Professor Arnold, his fate isn’t much better than Lancelot’s: a chip implanted in his neck self-destructs, blowing up his head. I had no earthly idea at the time how much head-splodey carnage this scene was foreshadowing.
But backing up many, many years: Harry (or Galahad) feels guilt over the death of a new spy he recruited into the business, so he gives this medallion thing to a very young Eggsy and tells him he can use it anytime to call in a favor. Fast forward maybe fifteen years later, and Eggsy’s life isn’t going so hot, having dropped out of the marines and living at home with his mother, baby sister, and abusive stepfather.
The mom, in particularly bugs me, partially because her entire story is about waiting for a man (in this case, her son) to rescue her, and partially because she comes off as weirdly trashy, even though that’s not how she struck me at all when we first met her. I’m not saying your life can’t spiral downwards after you lose somebody, of course, but this . . . it kind of reads like her husband was the only thing saving her from being a useless sack of rags, and now that he’s dead, well, of COURSE she fell into a tragic situation like this. Single mothers making it work, ha. We all know that doesn’t happen.
I fully admit that I could be reading too much into this. But I find the mother’s complete lack of agency disturbing, particularly in a story about domestic abuse, and the transition from Grieving-But-Seemingly-Good-Parent to Ignoring-My-Baby’s-Tears-Because-Christ-I-Need-A-Cigarette-Parent seemed really jarring to me.
Anyway, Eggsy uses his favor to get out of jail after the most superbly unrealistic joyriding scene ever and gets recruited to compete for Lancelot’s now-open spot in the Kingsmen/Knights of the Round Table. (And I know this isn’t important, but I’ve gotta say that if you’re gonna base your entire secret spy agency on Arthurian mythology, don’t you think you’d spring a few extra bucks for an actual round table? I’m disappointed in you, gentlemen.)
Merlin (Mark Strong), using an odd Scottish accent that didn’t sound particularly consistent to my admittedly untrained American ears, warns the recruits that this will be the most dangerous job interview any of them have ever encountered. He hammers this in by having all of them write their names and next-of-kin addresses on body bags.
Eggsy has one of my favorite reaction shots in the whole movie when he looks at everyone else, all like, “Uh, guys? Is everyone else seriously okay with this?” Nice Girl Roxy assures him that it’s just a scare tactic, but she seems to be wrong when the only other girl candidate is killed in their first test.
I say seemingly because of course Other Girl doesn’t really die, something I suspected early on but figured out for sure when they let King Douchebag live. (I refuse to look up his actual name. He doesn’t have enough character to merit a real name.) See, the competition has whittled down to three candidates, and they’re exactly the three you expect: Eggsy, Nice Girl Roxy, and King Douchebag. K.D objects to Eggsy because of his lower class status. (There’s a whole classism theme to this movie. It’s about as subtle as a bag of bricks to the head, but really, I didn’t mind it.) In the loyalty test, the candidates are knocked out, tied to train tracks (with a train hurtling towards them, naturally), and asked to give up their employers.
King Douchebag, of course, immediately sells out the Kingsmen, but not only do they let him live, they send him on his merry way with his memory fully intact, despite the fact that these guys totally have Amnesia Darts.
This told me two things:
1. The supposedly dead girl wasn’t dead after all because you don’t kill some recruits and not others, especially if the ones you let live are the ones who showed willingness to betray you.
2. The Kingsmen are idiots.
Honestly. If you’re not even going to use your Amnesia Darts on a spiteful kid who fails the LOYALTY TEST, how do you expect to keep your super spy agency a secret anyway? I simply don’t believe it. King Douchebag later shows up at an inopportune time to screw Eggsy over, but IMO, the real reason he doesn’t get his mind wiped after failing is because they’d have to do the same thing to Eggsy, as he also flunks out, and that would create serious plot problems with the movie. I know it sounds like a minor thing to complain about, but it’s actually a semi-serious plot convenience problem for me.
Meanwhile, Eggsy passes the loyalty test. Unfortunately, he still loses the Lancelot position because he refuses to shoot his dog.
See, the recruits all get a puppy at the beginning of their training, presumably to teach them responsibility or something? Shit, I can’t remember what BS reason they give for it. The point is, Mek and I are looking at each other, going, “Oh yeah, the recruits are totally gonna be forced to kill their dogs.” (Interestingly, this is also the Final Test that Cooper fails in Dog Soldiers, although — minor spoilers — since Liam Cunningham and his merry band of soldiers are actually first grade assholes and not gentlemanly at all, they kill their dogs for real, not just shoot them with blanks. Eggsy doesn’t find out about the blanks until later, of course.)
Meanwhile, it’s not all training and possible dog murder. Valentine and Gazelle are busy kidnapping celebrities, political figures, and a variety of other prominent rich people. Some of them return after agreeing to Valentine’s nefarious schemes, each with a chip implanted in their necks (like the ill-fated Professor). Others, like the Princess, are locked away where they can’t tell anyone about said nefarious schemes. It turns out that Valentine wants to save the planet by drastically reducing the population, which he plans to achieve via all those chips which, when activated, emit a Homicidal Motherfucker Impulse to try and kill the hell out of everyone around you.
They test this on a small church/hate group in America that’s basically the Westboro Baptist Church. Harry knows something is supposed to happen and goes to investigate. Before he can escape, though — and his little speech to the uber religious woman next to him is a thing of beauty — Valentine activates the chips.
And then Harry kills EVERYBODY.
You guys, this scene. This SCENE. This is one of the best fight scenes I have ever had to privilege to watch. Nothing could have prepared me for this glorious, wanton violence — and the thing was, I thought I was prepared for all the glorious, wanton violence. I knew going in that there was at least one scene where normal people were going to attack the hell out of each other (I figured it out from a review unrelated to the film), but holy SHIT, you guys. This scene alone makes this movie worth watching.
As I’m watching this thing of beauty, a distant part of my brain — whatever lobe is directly responsible for writing emotional H/C fanfic – starts thinking, Man, if Harry makes it out of this movie alive, he’s going to have some serious angst. Cause sure these particular churchgoers are all terrible people with terrible opinions, but they’re also all innocent people, and our mentor hero just killed the shit out of them.
Well, he doesn’t. Make it out alive, that is. Harry exits the church to come face to face with Valentine and instead of McDonalds, Harry gets a bullet to the head. I figured early on that there was a decent chance our dapper spy wasn’t surviving the movie, but the moment is still startlingly abrupt and I definitely had one of my “Jimmy, noooooo!” moments because Colin Firth is just seriously the best in this.
Arthur (Michael Caine) turns out to be evil, surprising no one, so it’s up to Eggsy, Nice Girl Roxy, and Not-So-Scottish Merlin to save the day. And I should say here that I do like the fact that Nice Girl Roxy becomes Lancelot — I just wish she got more to do. See, the plan is that Eggsy and Merlin will sneak into Valentine’s little paradise for all the celebrities who joined in on the Die, Poor People, Die plan. Meanwhile, Nice Girl Roxy has to conquer her fear of heights by going up into space and taking down the satellite that Valentine needs to activate the chips worldwide.
Which sounds important but it’s really not and mostly just serves to sideline her from all the real action. Better luck next time, Lancelot.
Then Eggsy gets to dress up super suave because to sneak in, he has to pretend to be Arthur. (Thankfully, Valentine doesn’t personally greet all his arriving guests, otherwise their plan would be totally fucked from the start.) He doesn’t look half-bad actually, even with his giant gentleman glasses.
Unfortunately, he’s discovered almost immediately because King Douchebag is naturally there. (Seriously, people. AMNESIA DARTS.)
In what’s probably the second best scene in the movie, Merlin manages to hack into all those chips and activate the self-destruct button. “Pomp and Circumstance” plays as hundreds of heads explode into colorful confetti — it is the funniest damn thing. I can’t even tell you.
But even with all the collaborators dead, the world is still at risk. Nice Girl Roxy took down her satellite (and pretended to have trouble as she fell back to Earth, as if anyone seriously believed she was in any real danger), but Valentine quickly borrows another satellite. Just like that, all the innocent people on Earth start killing each other again, so Eggsy goes to kill Gazelle and Valentine. Merlin seems free to go help Eggsy with that but instead opts to chill on the plane because of . . . Reasons?
One of the good-turned-suddenly-homicidal people is, of course, Eggsy’s mom. I assumed that she would at least get to attack her abusive husband during this worldwide brawl, but for some reason he’s entirely absent, and we just see her try to kill her baby daughter instead. The women roles in this movie are so disappointing.
Eggsy manages to kill both Gazelle and Valentine. Valentine isn’t hard, as he’s looking away from the violence and doesn’t see that he’s in danger. (He looks away when he shoots Harry in the head too, and despite my sorrow for Colin Firth, I was amused when Gazelle was all like, “Isn’t killing great?” and Valentine was all, “Christ no, this is horrible,” and Gazelle is like, “Wait, what?”)
Then Eggsy goes back to the Princess.
So, yeah. Eggsy discovered the Princess — she’s an actual Swedish princess, BTW, in case that wasn’t clear — a little earlier, but was too busy saving the world to let her out right then. The Princess — who has seemed like a perfectly normal person thus far — suddenly says, “If you save the world, we can do it in the asshole.”
And . . . look, it’s a funny line? I mean, I did laugh. Eggsy’s very blank-faced, “I will be right back,” was a good reaction too, but I was really hoping the Princess was just lying to give him extra motivation to get her the hell out of there or something because the whole princess in the castle thing is not a trope we really need to keep going. But of course she does have sex with him, and not only that, but we’re treated to a ridiculously gratuitous shot of the Princess’s ass. And hey, I’m actually not the feminist usually arguing against gratuitous nudity (I just want more equal opportunity eye candy, that’s all) but this was just ridiculous. In a film already chockfull of subpar female characters, the Princess is just the worst. Her whole character basically boils down to being a Sex Trophy.
And guys, I do get it, that it’s a James Bond homage and all, but I don’t care. Just because it’s an homage doesn’t mean I have an obligation to like it.
And — well, that’s basically it. Eggsy, now not just a man but a Kingsman, gets to save his mom and beat up his stepdad, which is a nice callback to an earlier scene with Harry, although it still keeps the mom from having even the slightest shred of agency in this film. Presumably, Eggsy, Nice Girl Roxy, and Merlin all continue saving the world, and now that Arthur’s seat is open, maybe we can continue our charge towards modernity by adding another woman to the round table, or a guy who isn’t actually white, or hey, what about a woman who isn’t actually white?
Come on, potential sequel. If you ever get made, I will expect some diversity from you.
Harry: “I’m a Catholic whore, currently enjoying congress out of wedlock with my black Jewish boyfriend who works at a military abortion clinic. Hail Satan, and have a lovely afternoon, madam.”
Harry: “Boys, I’ve had a rather emotional day, so whatever your beef with Eggsy is — and I’m sure it’s well-founded — I’d appreciate it if you could just leave us in peace until I’ve finished this lovely pint of Guinness.”
Harry: “Did you see the film Trading Places?”
Harry: “How about Nikita? . . . Pretty Woman? . . . all right, my point is that the lack of a silver spoon has set you on a certain path you needn’t stay on. If you’re prepared to adapt and learn, you can transform.”
Eggsy: “Oh yeah, like in My Fair Lady.”
Harry: “Well, you’re full of surprises. Yes, like My Fair Lady.”
Eggsy: “What does this do? Electrocute you?”
Harry: “Don’t be ridiculous. It’s a hand grenade.”
Eggsy: “Shut up.”
Lancelot: “I suppose asking for a cup of sugar would be going too far.”
Totally enjoyable film. Amazing action sequences. I’ll probably own it on DVD for the church scene alone. But I’m still knocking it down a letter grade, mostly because of the bullshit female characters. Sorry, guys, but you had plenty of opportunities, and it’s 2015. I expect better.
Being a hero isn’t about what class you’re born into. Rich or poor, it doesn’t matter: if you fight to save the world, you apparently deserve a piece of ass at the end.