I had mixed expectations for Kingsman: The Secret Service. On the one hand, Matthew Vaughn has done some stuff I really love; X-Men: First Class had a great vintage feel, and Stardust balanced romantic fantasy with light action really well. On the other hand, I’m still not sure if I can pin down how I felt about Kick-Ass, and Mark Millar as a writer doesn’t really do it for me – I can get behind over-the-top violence, but the way he revels in it can make me uncomfortable. Plus I really get the feeling that he hates women.
But the trailer looked fun, and my husband was really excited to see it, and it was full of every seasoned British actor that I adore (Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Michael Caine, Jack Davenport…), and those things are more than enough to get me into a theater to see a film.
Old Money vs. New Money vs. No Money – The Kingsman Story
I’m glad I did! I would say I unequivocally enjoyed a solid 80% of the movie. It surprised me in some ways (there are important female characters! Whose gender is incidental TO their characters! Who aren’t whores or prostitutes!) and was utterly unsurprising in others (the 20% of the movie I hated were the incredibly “Mark Millar”-esque fight scenes, including a gruesome finale set to celebratory music. Oh yeah, and a really gross, misogynistic, unnecessary endcap).
The story of Kingsman is pretty basic, which lets it get all the cheeky call-backs to James Bond and other gentleman spy movies in that it wants to without feeling overcrowded. Colin Firth, Mark Strong, and Michael Caine are members of the Kingsmen, a super secret international spy organization that finds itself needing a replacement member, who will be chosen from a pool of candidates as they’re put through a myriad of deadly tests and training. Taron Egerton, a newcomer as far as I know, plays Eggsy, Firth’s candidate – his father was a Kingsman trainee 17 years ago. Samuel L. Jackson gleefully plays the villain, the internet billionaire Valentine overly obsessed with climate change, who the Kingsmen must apprehend before he kills every person on the planet (except those who can pay for their Get Out of Jail Free card). Dancer Sofia Boutella plays my favorite character, Jackson’s second in command, a ferocious version of Lady Deathstrike who has knives for legs. (She’s not only a woman of color, but a disabled woman of color, who can kill you with her feet. I’m in love with her.)
KNIVES FOR LEGS. AND SHE IS COMING FOR YOU.
On the whole, it’s very well acted; I was afraid that Taron Egerton, our young hero, would be as generic and charmless as I find Channing Tatum, but once he opens his mouth he’s incredibly charismatic and fun to watch. The fight choreography is excellent. Colin Firth gets a really brilliantly staged fight scene that, regardless of how much is real and how much is CGI’d, would be impressive for an actor half his age.
The movie’s biggest fault, regardless of my personal preferences when it comes to violence, is that it thinks it’s got a strong message about the proletariat vs. the bourgeois; the commoners vs. the noblemen, if you will. The movie wants you to think that it’s about a lower class guy pulling himself up by his bootstraps to prove he’s just as good, if not better, as the upper crust. And literally, this does happen, but…at the end, our lower class heroes have just assimilated in the upper. They’ve become better by…being the same? It gets a little muddled. (Also, in true Millar fashion, the British lower class is populated exclusively by gross red-necks and the downtrodden women they abuse.) The message is there, but it gets muddled by showy action and scenes that are played for too-obvious jokes.
Kingsman is also INCREDIBLY white, a fact that is more obvious when you realize that the only people of color are the two villains (who are, in their defense, incredibly competent and scary) and bit characters who get one line of dialogue. Two of the candidates for Kingsman replacement are ladies, and it’s never even a thing – Vaughn couldn’t have thrown in a person of color or two? I think this also undermines the theme of the movie, since the British upper class is so traditionally white, and we’re supposedly tearing that tradition down in favor of better things.