Review: Kingsman: The Secret Service
Kingsman almost gets away with its ambitious, self-serving tomfoolery; that is until everything it took careful measures to craft falls completely apart in a self-destructive orgy of violence and absurdity.
That is to say, this exuberant and cheeky British action-adventure wants simultaneously to be new and nostalgic, proper and filthy, righteous and careless. It mocks cinematic tropes only to embrace them later. And at its most bizarre moment, it becomes aggressively gratuitous having been so notably asexual.
When the credits finally roll, which takes far longer than it needs to, Kingsman (cumbersomely subtitled The Secret Service) has run from clever to proud, from fun to frivolous. For this lively and polished film starring Colin Firth as a member of a historic league of well-manicured gentlemanly crusaders, one that runs out of a London haberdashery, loses focus after successfully juggling characters, tones, and stories.
While investigating the strange disappearances of scientists and dignitaries around the world, as well as the sudden death of a fellow agent, Firth’s Harry Hart, known as Galahad (all have code names after Arthurian legend), is grooming a prospective young candidate to take on Kingsman duties. Director Matthew Vaughn for quite some time proves adept at working with multiple stories: teasing a megalomaniac’s anarchic plan, following Galahad and company’s investigation, and fleshing the evolution of young Eggsby (Taron Egerton), the possible future Kingsman and son of a former agent with a troubled family life.
So amid esoteric conversations between Samuel L. Jackson’s wildly-dressed and eccentric American billionaire philanthropist and his deadly assistant, a treacherous Kingsman training program, and the doings of the elders (including a fantastic Mark Strong and Michael Cain), there are moments of heightened action and violent thrills.
All the while Vaughn winks and nods and has characters spout references to pop culture spy movies, looking to both honour and surpass what we have come to expect.
Eventually, though, Vaughn loses focus, and Kingsman doesn’t simply veer away from its fun, cartoonish drama; it spectacularly crashes and burns, destroying so much good will.
It’s a disappointment too; so much of Kingsman allows for the viewer to enjoyably escape into the grounded absurdity that the film creates. We can accept mesmerizing agility from our heroes who so casually dispatch a half-dozen armed men while dodging bullets, never spilling a drink or losing composure. See, the Kingsman pride themselves on being gentleman: a bespoke suit is the armor, an umbrella and pen the weapons, and they do not sit down unless invited to do so by their host.
Of course they’re ready to dispense justice as they see fit, be it towards generic henchman or bar floosies that need to be taught a lesson.
Which is all fine; these hypocrisies exist across the board in the action genre. It’s when Kingsman becomes far more brazen and boastful that it ruins its own pleasurable nature. It’s as if all the adults left the room for the third act and those in charge just want bloody anarchy. A bloated finale becomes ridiculous even with respect to the already established ridiculous world, dragging on to a predictable ending with all the action movie clichés (countdown clock, wayward-shooting bad guys, obligatory sex joke) it overtly declares its avoiding.
Kingsman, for its kinetic direction and charming leads, can’t help but stand up at the end and say everything short of, ‘look at what a cool movie I am.’