In 2010, director Mathew Vaughn released his adaptation of a comic book by Mark Millar, a simultaneous mockery and deification of superhero tropes expressed through ultraviolence of near-cartoonish extremity. That little film was called Kick Ass, and it has since become a cult classic. Kingsman: The Secret Service feels a lot like that film, probably because it is another Vaughn film adapted from another Millar comic. So, the short version of this review is that if you liked Kick Ass, you’ll likely enjoy Kingsman for a lot of the same reasons. The major difference is that where Kick Ass was a send-up of the superhero pastiche, Kingsman is likewise a take on classic espionage flicks a la classic James Bond, and this carries some baggage with it that makes the film problematic in certain respects.
The film has two concurrent plotlines that eventually intersect, one introducing us to the world of the English secret agent society known as the Kingsman through the eyes of potential recruit Eggsy, the other revolving around the investigation of a mounting plot by megalomanical tech genius billionaire Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson). Eggsy’s story will be familiar to anyone who has seen the Harry Potter films, as his underprivileged background places him in stark contrast with his aristocratic competitors, yet that outside perspective is what enables him to succeed where others fail. It hits its required beats with admirable efficiency, not lingering too long on what the audience realizes are inevitabilities and instead focusing on getting to the action.
And boy does this film lean heavy on the action, and it delivers in astoundingly choreographed ways. The camera zips around and slows down in order to provide close-ups of bloody executions framed with comic book sensibilities, often not breaking a shot as it moves from fast-paced execution to extreme explosion. There is one scene in particular wherein an agent engages in a hundred-person brawl inside a hate group church that will likely be the scene this film is most remembered for, despite how obviously contrived its presence in the film is just to provide the guilt-free spectacle of watching anonymously evil people rip each other to shreds.
But despite its ultraviolent spectacle, Kingsman attempts something that Kick Ass did not; it attempts to have a political agenda and comes off as more than a little… well, stupid. Without spoiling the film’s third act, it involves a plot so reliant on a cynicism about the true intentions of the rich, famous, and powerful as to be childish in its lack of nuance. Samuel L. Jackson plays a comically overblown American villain, who drinks his wine with a Big Mac and speaks with an affected lisp to hammer home is foppishness. This paints the conflict as between American capitalist imperialism versus (a supposedly superior) proper English imperialism, which feels less than thought out to the extent that the film blatantly spouts its philosophies. Furthermore, the film paints working class men as Neanderthals who universally beat women, and Eggsy’s personal journey revolves around him rising above that influence to become a true gentlemen, completely ignoring inherently classist implications.
And yet, these implications don’t detract from what is simply a really fun film. The action is heavy, the characters are memorable, there are a handful of very unique setpieces, and, most important, the movie is just a blast. Just don’t try to think too hard about the implications of a bourgeois society with no oversight fighting against foreign bourgeois through a mandate of moral supremacy. Unraveling that thread can only serve to demonstrate how stupid the film truly is, but stupid fun in just fine when taken as such.
What films do you need to turn your brain off for in order to enjoy? Does that make them lesser films? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.