If you are familiar with my writing you are aware I read a lot of comic books. I have read so many, I know more about the Punisher’s psychology, than a Catholic priest knows how to keep his pants up around boys. My love for comics started with my love for movies. I read Watchmen because the trailer was amazing and I liked Wanted until I read the comic. The book was so good I sought out other works by author Mark Millar.
Millar is not afraid to let loose with the content of his stories. Even when he has a filter he goes for a grand scale that makes for some memorable moments. He changed the Marvel Universe with Civil War, took Wolverine to a whole new level in Old Man Logan, and showed a side of Superman we never thought possible with Red Son.
Unfortunately, my appeal for Millar’s work began to wane when he started writing stories for the sole purpose of adaptation. I understand that is a genius tactic, but why would I pay to read a book that is essentially a glorified spec script?
Millar’s recent work is the subject of today’s review. Before seeing Kingsman: The Secret Service, I did not read the comic, and I usually avoid movies that look like XXX. Maybe I do not know how to have fun, or I have high standards, but my opinion changed when I realized it was directed my Matthew Vaughn.
I may not have liked Kick-Ass, but there was plenty to appreciate. The violence was amazing even with CGI blood splatters, Nicholas Cage was crazier than usual, and it had a soundtrack that would do Martin Scorsese proud. Vaughn is also a visual director, adopting a style akin to frequent collaborator Guy Ritchie, with a colorful aesthetic. In addition, he achieves a perfect balance between style and substance with simple stories told with artful direction. Does his skill make Kingsman worth a watch, or should you see 50 Shades of Grey?
In answer to the latter, absolutely not. Why would you go to a theater and spend money on something you can watch at home for free? If you want a more in depth explanation, here you go:
As for the former, Kingsman would not be as great without Vaughn. In the hands of someone lesser, the movie would have been an exact duplicate of XXX, with a complete lack of originality and finesse. I would go so far as to say he has out-shined five decades of Bond.
The story follows Eggsy, played by Taron Egerton, a troubled youth going nowhere in life. After a traffic altercation with the police, “Galahad”, played by Colin Firth, bails him out and recruits Eggsy for the Kingsman, an agency of super-spies. Behind the scenes, billionaire entrepreneur Valentine, played by Samuel L. Jackson, hatches a plot that threatens the world.
As you can probably tell the plot is very simple. It is a movie you have seen because it is every movie, specifically Star Wars, one of Vaughn’s biggest influences. It takes the essentials of the Heroes Journey and plugs in a few tropes common to Bond films. The only difference is Kingsman is paced the way a movie should and you actually care about the protagonist.
I know that is a biased thing to say, but what would you rather see: a perfect specimen of suave manliness we all know is going to win the day, or an every-man with problems and hardships people can relate to, who has to overcome what he is in order to win the day? Granted the former works in the case of Indiana Jones, but Jones is the kind of hero one could see themselves being because of how human he is.
The ordinary story is enhanced with great direction, the best of which more visible in the action scenes. The set ups are clever and layered with choreography so detailed I cannot comprehend how difficult it must have been to shoot them. On top of that, the violence makes Kick-Ass look like Bowling for Columbine. It is creative, stylish, but blunt and gory enough to not appear overly staged like a Star Wars prequel. The downside is most of the action is spread quite thin across the film’s two hour runtime.
About half the length is Eggsy being trained to be a Kingsman, while “Galahad” investigates Valentine’s possible threat. It drags its heels through a lot of detail that is important for character and world building, but still jarring as it jumps back and forth from action to character. The transition is confounding, especially when you consider the variation in tone.
For a visually colorful movie that is technically a comedy, Kingsman has Millar’s shocking brutality, enhanced by Vaughn’s artful style. At one point in particular, we go from harrowing moments of self-discovery and revelation, to a scene like this, set to the guitar solo from “Free Bird”:
However, taken at face value, the extreme shift in tone can be excused because unlike traditional Bond films, Kingsman is actually fun. When that scene happens, it comes after the long dragging first half, reigniting any interest one might have lost. It only happens once, but it is the kind of scene that makes movies famous. It is the pistol-whipping from Goodfellas, the Empire conversation from Clerks, and the “Flight of the Valkyries” from Apocalypse Now. I would go so far as to say you should see this movie for that one scene.
The acting was very general in it’s quality, but serviceable for what the movie is. The stand out is Taron Egerton, who had great comedic timing, and made Eggsy human. Colon Firth was… Colon Firth, including Samuel L. Jackson, with a few added character ticks. In a minor role, newcomer Sofia Boutella played a great secondary villain as Gazelle, with a fantastic physical performance.
I highly recommend Kingsman: The Secret Service. It is a fun and violent start to the year. If you are easily shocked and cannot discern fiction from reality, stay home, or go see 50 Shades of Grey with all the other delusional morons.