How to shoot yourself in the foot: ‘Kingsman: The Secret Service’
“Kingsman: The Secret Service” is a movie that has no idea what it wants to be. It follows Eggsy (Taron Egerton), a young Englander who grows up without a father. His dad sacrificed himself for his team on the kind of mission that James Bond makes his bread and butter, and Eggsy wears a medal around his neck he can never show to anyone else. Eggsy’s life consists of getting into trouble and watching out for his mom, who doesn’t have the best choice in boyfriends.
Eggsy is whisked off to a spy school in much the same way Harry Potter is taken to Hogwarts. The first half of “Kingsman” is as solid as you could ask for, alternating between Eggsy’s training and a mission to save the world being carried out by his sponsor Harry (Colin Firth).
Inevitably, Eggsy is drawn into the mission itself, which pits his team against a villain named Valentine who’s so upset global warming will destroy humankind that he decides to, um, destroy humankind. Just take that kind of logic on faith -- the villain’s played by Samuel L. Jackson, who seems to be the only one aware of what a cheeseball movie he’s actually in.
These sorts of plots are also where the film starts to come apart. When a writer (Jane Goldman) and director (Matthew Vaughn) are so obsessed with pushing a political agenda that it shoves everything else in the movie to the side, it becomes uncomfortable.
Any kind of message -- liberal or conservative -- that guts a film so completely of its story is a problem. The message in “Kingsman” is conservative. The last movie that did this so egregiously was the liberal-minded remake of “The Day the Earth Stood Still.” I don’t care what your politics are -- if they’re such a priority that a popcorn movie feels more like chastisement than entertainment, the movie’s failed. A movie can have politics in it, yes, but it still has to prioritize being a movie and telling a story.
It’s a shame -- “Kingsman” boasts a well-crafted first half and offers some exceptionally choreographed, albeit horrendously violent, action. It just finds as many ways to shoot itself in the foot by the end as I’ve ever witnessed. It has too many politics and grudges to ring out, too many names to drop and meta commentaries to make. If you can’t tell “Kingsman” is a riff on the spy genre an hour in, don’t worry -- characters will stop everything to remind you many, many times.
That’s not even bringing up the McDonald’s product placement, which tries to involve the ad as a meta joke the same way “Wayne’s World” and “Talladega Nights” have in the past. As it does with many elements, “Kingsman” feels too unsure of itself to fully commit to the joke -- instead of characters nodding and winking at the camera, you end up with Colin Firth and Samuel L. Jackson awkwardly grinding their way through a minute-long in-film ad.
That’s too often the feeling in “Kingsman.” It criticizes spy movies for being too political, then it obsesses over being political. It insists action movies are too serious and have forgotten how to be light-hearted, and minutes later it’s engaging in an extended sequence where civilians tear each other apart in bloody chunks. If anywhere, this is where the film should nod and wink, a la “Shaun of the Dead,” but this is where the film doubles down and wants to show you how good it can really be at all the things it just insisted shouldn’t matter.
I love bloody action and rude humor in my films, and even I felt like I had to take a shower after “Kingsman.” It’s not any worse than a brutal horror movie or the average episode of “South Park,” but it spends two hours selling you on the idea that these things shouldn’t be part of action movies before turning around and relenting to each of them anyway. It leaves you feeling confused, disappointed, and a little betrayed. Maybe it’s just trying to troll its entire audience. If so, mission accomplished.
One-and-a-half stars. In many ways, “Kingsman” ends up being the polar opposite of last week’s action movie, “Jupiter Ascending.” “Kingsman” is a movie that’s not enough of anything to feel very satisfying. “Jupiter Ascending” is a movie that’s too much of everything. Given the choice, I’d rather be overwhelmed than underwhelmed. If you only have time for one action movie, stick with “Jupiter Ascending.” “Kingsman” is rated R for violence, language, and sexual content.
Gabe Valdez grew up in Chicago, went to college in Massachusetts, is a former news reporter in Floresville, Texas, and worked in politics in Oregon. He writes and directs films when he can find the time. Reviews, views, photos and more can be found at http://basilmarinerchase.wordpress.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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