Dying Of Firth: Kingsman: The Secret Service Reviewed

Mat Colegate reviews spy caper, Kingsman. But will he form a solid Bond or will it leave him Napoleon So-low? (Slight Spoilers)

Well here’s another fine mess. The team behind Kick-Ass (the first, decent one) reunite to take similar liberties with a comic book property from the same author, Mark “The cops should shoot until the looting stops” Millar. The results, as before, are mixed. The entertainment value, as before, is pretty high. Kingsman is not a clever or witty film, it is the kind of film that, we’re you to meet it in person, would use the term ‘politically correct’ to insult you when you declined its offer to pay for a lap dance, but would probably make you laugh over a round of jagers by swearing creatively. It is what it is, is what it is. And if you are what it is – even if only for the brief period it waggles its bits at you – then you may well have a good time.

Taron Egerton plays Eggsy. Eggsy is a naughty boy. He lives on an estate, steals cars, drinks and gets into fights. Eggsy also loves his mum, so he’s obviously alright really. Eggsy misses his dead dad. Eggsy’s dead dad was – unbeknownst to Eggsy – a secret agent. After a spot of bother with Johnny Law, Eggsy calls on his dead dad’s old colleague, Harry (Colin Firth). Harry is Colin Firth. In a nice suit. With an array of brutal fighting techniques. These techniques impress Eggsy. Eggsy enrolls to become a secret agent – an elite secret agent, no less – kicks seven shades of shit out of everyone and, after much palaver, saves the world.

So that’s that. The only question after that simple set-up is, does it work? Answer, predictably, yes and no. Oh, that such a dumb film should be so bloody complicated.

Kingsman: The Secret Service (to bestow upon it its full title) just wants to entertain. And it succeeds on a fair few levels. It packs a lot into its running time, taking in an origin story, training sequences and the eventual defeat of a world threatening menace without ever feeling too stretched or over-long. All the elements are juggled with whip-smart timing and accuracy, so that you never feel talked down to or left behind, and there’s just about the right balance of absurdity and peril to keep you gripped. In terms of the basics, Kingsman is an extremely efficient machine indeed.

However, there are several vital factors that stop the film from succeeding, even on its own terms, and drastically hobble what should be caper night in flash-town. Firstly, Samuel L. Jackson. What the fuck are you doing, mate? The former bad asses’ turn as eccentric megalomaniac zillionaire Richmond Valentine is laughably ineffectual. I know that in these sorts of films – y’know, spy films and all that – having a wacky yet psychopathic villain is part of the fun, but this is like watching James Bond punching a jelly baby. Veracity is obviously not Kingsman‘s strong suit, but a more believably dangerous main threat wouldn’t have gone amiss. His technologically based plan also hits a dud note (clue: it’s to do with mobile phones), as does his utterly baffling reasoning behind it. Once again Hollywood has charmingly decided that anyone concerned with environmental destruction is either a fruitcake or a psychopath. Thanks, The Big H, keep it classy.

Secondly there is a problem of tooooone. Obviously, upsetting bourgeois sensibilities is part of Kingsman‘s entire reason for breathing, but there are points where this constant turning over of the PC applecart falls flat. One of the film’s centrepiece hoo-haas focusses on a massacre (and there really is no other word for it) at a Westboro-style church congregation. Kingsman clearly wants us to clap like drooling seals at this beautifully orchestrated ballet of wanton violence and cruelty (and the violence is stunningly realised, despite a preponderance of CG scoping that takes a bit of getting used to), but the overall effect is painfully awkward. The scene feels shoehorned into the plot with no rhyme or reason other than to get the audience onside for the brutal murder of a couple of hundred bigots.

Kingsman‘s overall message is, however, loud and clear: Pull yourself up by your bootstraps, oik, and you too can be worthy of Saville Row tailoring and the bumming of foreign royalty. It’s Ayn Rand by way of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., and it leaves a bad taste in the mouth. Especially when a film that goes out of its way to demonstrate an apparently classless ideal portrays the majority of its working class characters as alcoholic wife batterers. And especially when its directed by that former alumnus of the Stowe school, Buckinghamshire, Matthew De Vere Drummond.

Of course, if you go in to any action movie spoiling for that kind of rumble then you’re going to come out with a black eye, and Kingsman is clearly not trying to say a damn thing about any damn thing at all. It’s only ambition is to bolster your Saturday night with some solid thrills – machine gun umbrellas and all. However, one of the side-effects of this all-against-all-and-we’ll-see-who-laughs-loudest approach is that it makes it impossible to give a hoot about a single thing that happens. An unconvincing threat, a cast of caricatures, and very little in the way of solid laughs (did I mention that I didn’t laugh at any point? No, well I have now). Kingsman delivers exactly what it wants, but if it had pulled itself up by its bloody bootstraps and wiped that stupid grin off its face it could have delivered a hell of a lot more.

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