Saturday, August 1, 2015

Kingsman: The Secret Service Movie Review

I continue to fall victim to these early-in-the-year releases that get good reviews, forgetting every year that for the most part, these films are not very good. It’s just that critics are desperate to grasp at something remotely interesting in the early months on the calendar. Kingsman: The Secret Service is one of these movies. It’s all flash and panache, giving the illusion of something stylish and innovative. This is Matthew Vaughn’s second film adapted from a Mark Millar comic. Kick Ass was the first and, truth be told, violence is treated equally in both films, which tells me that Millar and Vaughn see no difference between violence committed by and against a twelve-year old girl and English gentlemen.

Colin Firth is Galahad, a member of the Kingsmen, a supra-governmental international super secret spy organization led by Arthur, played by none other than Michael Caine, now essentially ending his career exclusively with roles as the wizened elder dispensing sage advice. Galahad recruits the son of a fallen Kingsman to train to join the organization. The young man, played with exuberance and the kind of cool and relaxed charm that James Bond popularized by Taron Egerton, has grown up rough on the streets of East London. He’s a petty thug who occasionally thwarts the law and general sense of gentlemanly conduct. Galahad will try to show him that behavior is not born and can be learned.

The film is indebted to the spy films and TV shows of old: James Bond of the 60s as well as “Get Smart,” The Avengers,” and others, with tailored suits, gadgets and gizmos galore, and a cartoonish villain with a crazy scheme. The Bond villains usually had some physical mark, disability, or ailment. As Valentine, Samuel L. Jackson gets the juiciest role and adds a lisp, which makes his villain and every scene with him just a little more fun. His plan is a solution to global warming, which he sees as the planet’s fever to rid itself of the virus of humanity. Behind every great Bond villain there was usually a great henchman or sidekick, often with a unique weapon. Valentine has Gazelle (Sofia Boutella) a henchwoman with Oscar Pistorius-style prosthetic legs, but with the addition of razor-sharp swords that can slice a man cleanly in half – vertically!

Like with Kick Ass, Vaughn covers his movie with frame-to-frame and scene-to-scene carnage and endless CGI blood splatters, spurts, gushes, and pools. Cartoonishness is the goal and the lack of realistic integrity of the visual effects (though it should be noted that many of the actors did a lot of their own stunts and fight choreography, eliminating the need for conspicuous edits and concealments) lends itself to that, as such. But Vaughn’s total lack of restraint says more about his failure of imagination in using violence to aid his story. Instead it comes off as brutality for its own sake with an attempt to bring a Tarantino-esque level of humor. But with so much, it turns on a complete numbing effect. Ironically, Vaughn got his start as a producer on Guy Ritchie’s early films which were developmental homages or knock-offs (depending on your perspective) of Tarantino’s early films. Sadly, the ethos has not been transmitted well over time. To go form Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, which demanded that we laugh at the sheer level of shock and absurdity in violence to Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, which added virtuosos stylistic touches, and on to Kick Ass and Kingsman is to trace an absence of understanding of how to connect the dots on themes of societal relationships to violence.

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