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Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015)

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(A&F links to Stardust (2007), Kick-Ass (2010) and X-Men: First Class (2011).)

 

JoBlo:

The Matthew Vaughn film is an adaptation of the Mark Millar comic of the same name, and follows a secret agent named Uncle Jack (Firth) as he trains his troubled nephew (Egerton) in the art of espionage. THE SECRET SERVICE is Taron Egerton's big screen debut, and besides Firth the film also stars Samuel L. Jackson as the villain and Michael Caine as the head of the spy agency.

 

Independent.ie:

Mark Strong has teased that director Matthew Vaughn will outdo himself with new film The Secret Service. The British actor hinted that the upcoming spy adventure, based on Mark Millar's comic book, will be madder than Kick-Ass, which Matthew also directed. "It's fun and mad and it'll be everything that Kick-Ass was, only more," he said. Mark stars as one of the secret service agents in the comic book adaptation alongside Sir Michael Caine and Colin Firth. Colin portrays "the world's greatest secret agent", who is training his nephew - played by newcomer Taron Egerton - in the spy business, with Sir Michael cast as the head of the elite spy organisation.

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I don't track pre-release box-office expectations, but I know that Fifty Shades of Grey has dominated discussion of this weekend's moviegoing. I haven't seen any expectations for performance of this film, which is actually a potential franchise. I can't tell if the studio has tested it and given up on it, or if it's supposed to be effective counter-programming.

 

In any case, the film, which I saw earlier this week, is worth some discussion. I think I'm under embargo for now, but here's a succinct dismissal from Jeffrey Wells. My own thoughts on the film are more mixed. I'll expand on those tomorrow.

Edited by Christian

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I'll see it. I'm a spy movie guy.

I don't put any stock in Jeff Wells' opinions, but I do imagine that I'll have mixed feelings about this one.

Edited by Ryan H.

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FWIW, Anthony Lane:

 

In the cruellest sequence, Firth, diverting slightly from his role in “Pride and Prejudice” (1995), goes berserk in a church, shooting or stabbing half the congregation, burying a hatchet in the skull of one woman, and impaling the preacher on a stake.

 

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Thanks for linking that story, Peter. I hadn't been aware of the connection. The scene is a real turnoff even before the carnage kicks in. It felt really cheap to me, whereas the film up to that point had been pretty entertaining, if crude.

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Fun movie. Now I'm just waiting to read all the pieces denouncing it as right-wing propaganda.

 

*** SPOILERS GALORE ***

 

Consider:

 

-- The villain is a guy who believes in climate change so much, he's willing to wipe out almost all of humanity.

-- He gets some Scandinavian (Swedish?) politician to play along.

-- The Scandinavian politician self-identifies as a small-r "republican", i.e. someone who doesn't care for the royal family.

-- Obama himself joins in on the villain's conspiracy.

-- Colin Firth's character recalls how he once saved Margaret Thatcher's life.

-- The good guys save the day with the help of a device created as part of "Reagan's Star Wars" program.

-- Obama's head explodes, thus making him the second real-life head of state to be killed in a movie in as many months (following Kim Jong-Un in The Interview).

 

Complicating matters, however, is the film's treatment of religion:

 

-- While the Westboro-style church is identified as a "hate group" that the FBI has been investigating -- and thus not as a regular church at all -- and while the slaughter of the church is clearly portrayed as something that happens under the villain's mind control, the fact remains that the movie depicts the slaughter of an entire congregation.

-- The climate-change-believing, humanity-culling villain compares himself to God and Noah.

-- On the other hand, the main character's mother is wearing a cross on her necklace at the beginning of the film, when she's a recently-widowed, respectable middle-class type; I can't recall seeing the cross in the later scenes, when she's shacked up with some abusive guy living in one of the welfare flats.

 

And then of course there's the way the film goes slightly beyond your typical James Bond film in the violence and even nudity department.

 

So this is a film that *could* appeal to American conservatives if it didn't have certain things that might repel them as well.

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I'm seeing this tomorrow, but knowing the work of Miller and Vaughn (and having some familiarity with the source material), I'd guess that all that stems from a muddled attempt at satire that lampoons its central figures by exaggerating their distasteful aspects to giddy extremes. Which is to say I'd be inclined to believe it's laughing at conservatism/classism/misogyny, even as it revels in it.

Edited by Ryan H.

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"Giddy" is right. There's a scene here that makes use of Elgar in a way that made me laugh out loud.

 

(I think my second biggest laugh came at the end, when a title card dedicates the film to the director's mother. I'm sure the sentiment is sincere, but... this isn't the sort of film one normally expects to see dedicated to one's mother.)

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Incidentally, there is one plot element in this film that reminded me of Revelation, the second end-times movie produced by the Lalonde brothers. In both films, the villain gives everyone in the world free technology (virtual-reality helmets, in that other film) with the obvious intention of doing something *bad* to them through that technology.

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Incidentally, there is one plot element in this film that reminded me of Revelation, the second end-times movie produced by the Lalonde brothers. In both films, the villain gives everyone in the world free technology (virtual-reality helmets, in that other film) with the obvious intention of doing something *bad* to them through that technology.

 

Also done in "The Sontaran Stratagem."

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Kingsman: The Secret Service has the 46th-biggest opening for an R-rated movie and the 2nd-biggest opening for director Matthew Vaughn, behind X-Men: First Class (2011, $55.1 million).

 
It also has the biggest opening ever for Colin Firth (previous champ: A Christmas Carol, 2009, $30.1 million) and Mark Hamill (previous champ: Return of the Jedi, 1983, $23 million).
 
It also has the 8th-biggest opening ever for Michael Caine (behind 5 Chris Nolan films, Austin Powers 3 and Cars 2) and the 14th-biggest opening ever for Samuel L. Jackson (behind 6 Marvel movies, 3 Star Wars movies, The Incredibles, Jurassic Park, XXX and S.W.A.T.).
 

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Ryan H. wrote:
: It doesn't seem to have a clue what it's doing with the tropes that it's sending up, which results in some unpleasant turns.

 

Care to elaborate on that?

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Care to elaborate on that?

Sure.

Take the villain's "Big Mac" moment. It's obviously a joke about the big villain dinner scenes one finds in Bond movies, ala Octopussy. But it's also just kinda racist (and even if that racism is intended to mirror the casual racism one finds in older Bond films, it doesn't really make any sort of successful comment on that racism, either).

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Whoa. How is the "Big Mac" scene "racist"!? Is there some black-people-eat-McDonald's-food-all-the-time meme that I somehow missed? I just took it as a general comment on American vulgarity.

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So.  The church scene was unfortunate, it sure seemed to me to be a revenge fantasy against certain "hate groups" like the Wetboro Baptists, which is bad enough, but could it also be extended beyond that towards certain forms of Christianity in a more general sense?

 

The only other part that really crossed the icky line for me was the little bit with the princess at the end, especially the favour that she was going to give him.

 

But, that aside, I thought that this was a fascinatingly fun, even fantastic movie.  It really was kind of cool in places.  The music often enhanced this.

 

Of course some of the gore was supposed to be completely over the top and cartoonish, that became pretty clear at the end with the fireworks.

Edited by Attica

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Whoa. How is the "Big Mac" scene "racist"!?

Yeah, someone else accused it of being racist, too!  I think it was in Film Comment.  I have no idea what they're talking about.

 

 

But overall, I found this movie to be fairly unpleasant.  It had a lot of fun and crazy ideas, but there's just something rotten at its core.  It doesn't really like (most of) its characters, people in general, or its audience.  

 

SPOILERS::The church massacre scene is a case in point:  It comes right after we see Eggsy be too soft-hearted to kill his dog, and then he and Colin FIrth meet up again, and Firth explains that Kingsman training isn't really as deadly as it's made out to be, and we're to take this as kind of a bonding session where the movie is establishing some moral grounding.  And then we watch a church full of people be mind-controlled into killing each other.  And we're supposed to ENJOY it.  It doesn't matter that they're all bigots--the movie just showed more compassion for a dog than for these people, and we're supposed to think it's really awesome how they're slaughtering each other, and Colin Firth is killing people left and right, and the music is blaring, and it's all fun.  And I didn't think that was actually that fun.

 

I wanted to like the movie, and I mostly liked the first half, but by the end I had soured pretty bad, and the infamous princess/sex-joke scene was just the final straw.

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Kelly J. Baker @ Killing the Buddha: "Kingsman: The One-Percent Apocalypse":

 

When Valentine’s plan was revealed, I first thought this was a reversal of apocalyptic visions, in which the oppressed and downtrodden emerge the victors in a world torn asunder. The 1% would remain safe while the rest of humanity violently killed one another with brute force. Forget the meek, the ruling classes would have their utopia with a world no longer under the threats of global warming and overpopulation. Valentine wanted the rich to inherit the earth. . . .

 

The film played to apocalyptic fears about the destruction of the planet (global warming!), but what struck me was the tension that emerged along class lines. Kingsman proved not to be a reversal of end-times visions of the oppressed, but rather a vengeful fantasy about the annihilation of one-percenters and hateful religious people. While the rich might have backed a plan to cull humans, the have-nots win the day because a working-class hero saves the world.

 

We should all celebrate when the ruling classes and the haters are destroyed, right? The fireworks suggest so. . . .

 

Mark Steyn:

 

Some critics seem to have been expecting the film to "subvert" notions of class, which is hard to do when Colin Firth spends the entire picture ass-kicking rubes who are worse-dressed than him. . . .

 

The filmmakers - Matthew Vaughn and his co-writer Jane Goldman (she's the missus of Jonathan Ross, my old confrere on the BBC's "Loose Ends" a zillion years ago) - are British, and therefore less likely to find themselves sitting across the dinner table from Leonardo DiCaprio or Barbra Streisand being put through the wringer. But it's not that they're liberal or conservative or anything else, so much as they insist on the right not to be constrained within the usual feeble Jon Stewart limousine-liberal straitjacket. And that's this film's principal contribution: instead of the usual Halliburton executive or Koch brother, it says you can make a blockbuster movie in which the baddie is a Big Climate activist. . . .

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The only thing I was thinking during the Big Mac scene (considering it was with Samuel L. Jackson) was:

Hamburgers, the cornerstone of any nutritious breakfast. What kind of hamburgers?

Which made me think, many of this movie's problems would be solved if Tarantino had directed it. Not that that might not create new problems, but the dichotomy between the movie wanting to be fun, old-school shoot-em-up and the glossing over of the nastiness of some of the violence really did rub me the wrong way. E.g. when you cut someone clean in half vertically for laughs, and there's barely a drop of blood to be scene, it makes the scene seem like no big deal and just another creatively amusing violent moment. At least Tarantino doesn't shy away from the gruesome nastiness of his violence, and the over-the-top cartoonish quantities gore he uses would actually have made Kingsman more conscientious about how brutal killing is, I think. It also would have made Jackson's squeamish villain funnier.

I admit there were a lot of scenes which were a lot of fun (I did laugh quite a bit at Pomp and Circumstance), but for every fun scene there was at least one which was equally distasteful, and the final shot *really* left a bad taste in my mouth. Yes, James Bond films almost always objectified women, but never did one (of those I've seen) take this much winking pleasure at it. And good point, Stephen M, the film definitely has more respect for a dog than for bigots, who happen to be human beings.

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