by Brian Surber
There are movies that are violent for the sake of being violent. This is not one of them. Not only is Kingsman: The Secret Service a joyously fun, retro-fitted, violent blast of energy, but it’s a film that has something to say. Touching on a generation gap, Kingsman deals with our society’s necessity for action while holding a grand sense of style and old-school proceedings. It’s also just outrageously fun.
Kingsman deals with a secret organization of spies: they wear suits, have code names belonging to the Knights of the Round Table, have cool vehicles and gadgets, and calmly, always get their man. Sound familiar? That’s because it’s the plot of numerous spy films of years past, and this film knows it. There are several references to the new classification for spies; Jason Bourne, Jack Bauer, and the Daniel Craig incarnation of James Bond. And the film deals with the fact that the old is very different from the new. Some of the tongue-in-cheekiness is a little too meta – a character says “It’s not that kind of movie.” – but for the most part it’s incredibly fun to watch the proceedings unfold.
The plot revolves around said organization recruiting a new member. Colin Firth, who seems to be having a whole ton of fun, plays the recruiter of young Eggsy (played with startling confidence by newcomer Taron Egerton). Together the Kingsman must band together to stop a madman (Samuel L. Jackson, because, duh) who plans to wipe out much of the human population by putting them in a hyper-violent trance via their smart phones.
But enough about the plot. What makes Kingsman: The Secret Service stand out is how it not only plays around with genre expectations, but comments on where cinema is now. The film tells an old school story and uses the kind of hyper-violence audiences have seemingly come to expect. It blends the classic, sleek, old-fashioned spy films of past with the fast paced, frenetic, and chaotic spy films of the present.
The film also has a lot of fun with genre conventions. For instance, Firth and Jackson have a scene where both characters know the other’s intent but believes the other doesn’t know that. Like in a lot of spy films (and films in general) the characters engage in a sparring of the wits while subtly hinting that they know more than they are letting on. In most films the topic would be about something like hunting, where one character talks about how hunting is stalking your pray slowly so they get comfortable before striking, creating a blatant metaphor for the relationship between the two nemesis. The topic that Firth and Jackson use for their allegory is their fondness for these exact conversations in older spy films. Brilliant.
The film is quickly paced and gorgeously shot, and the actions scenes are truly first-rate. The camera moves with the action, and sets the tone and pace of said scenes. A sequence where Firth battles a church full of rednecks is especially exciting and fantastic. The film has the polish, whimsy, and colorful palettes of spy films of old. Watching the twists and turns play out, you can’t help but feel like a kid playing in your backyard. And, for me at least, that’s the sign of a great action film.
Some aspects of Kingsman flow more smoothly than others and the film has trouble keeping us up to date on how much time is passing. Michael Caine may be seen as being underutilized in his role as the head Kingsman, his appearance in his, like, three scenes seem almost forced to make the role worthy of such a respected actor. But those are minor flaws in a film that strives to be what it wants to be and doesn’t let anything get in its way.
Kingsman: The Secret Service is the latest deconstruction to come out of Hollywood. What sets the film apart from the pack is its ability to blend the old and the new to craft a terrific mash-up of a film genre that thrives even as it’s changed so much. Kingsman is the equivalent of hearing The Beatles mixed with Jay-Z (it exists and is wonderful); it’s an old car with new parts that runs beautifully. This film is a big present of fun that’s been delivered to us during a very cold winter. Kingsman: The Secret Service is just the thing to get the blood pumping, put a smile on your face, and make you feel like a kid again.
Rating – 1/2