Friday, January 15, 2016

DVD of the Week: Kingsman: The Secret Service

Early Spring seems to be the time when Hollywood drops a supposedly "edgy" and "growed up" comic action movie on the eager public who have suffered through the post-xmas rush of Oscar Fodder. This year we have Deadpool, and in past years we've had Watchman and Kick-Ass in the same slot. They tend to do pretty well, too, and I'm not going to claim that I haven't enjoyed all or part of these films. Last years was Kingsman: The Secret Service, which seemed a little divisive, some seemingly repelled by it, others entraced, and that divide seemed to break down in unpredictible ways, too. But with a lot of talent both in front of, and behind the camera, I was largely expecting to enjoy it. And i did - with reservations. 

Very losely based on a Mark Millar comic - seriously I think Millar doesn't write comics so much these days as hollywod spec scripts with good art - Kingsman presents us with an independant spy agency run by dapper gents in good suits who are top notch at the old ultra-violence. One of their fine chaps (Colin Firth) recruits working class stereotype Eggsy (Taron Egerton) into the organisation to face a nefarious villian (Samuel L Jackson) intent on a grandiose scheme. A host of English character actors provide support in impecible suits. 

At it's heart, I think Kingsman really doesn't know what it wants to be. On the one hand, it's clearly spoofing the coventions of the spy genre, both shouting out to, and deconstructing, some very familiar beats. On the other hand, it also loves those beats, the smart suits, and the uncritical ultra-violence, and so it can't keep the distance it needs to not just look severely conflicted. It's hard, for example, to have a character unwillingly massacre dozens of people and have that land, emotionally, when the film is at pains to point out they're horrible people, and then film said massacre with joyous abandon.

The same goes for it's characters - the Kingsmen are patriarcial, classist organisation and the film makes that a key plot point on more than one occassion. But in the end, Eggsy is subsumed into the organisation, becomes one of them, rather than the Kingsman being accepting of who he is. I ended up not sure if it's supposed to be exposing the hollowness of that sort of Elitism or applauding it. It's not helped by the uniformly negative lower class characters, almost deserving of the fate the villian is planning to mete out. Worse is the fate of women in this world - none of which manage to pass muster as an actual character, and one of the largest roles goes to a Bondian "women as reward" punchline. Ugh. 

But as I mentioned at the top of this review, there is a lot of talent on display here. The main (male) cast is effortlessly charming, and director Matthew Vaughn has a great eye for kinetic action set-pieces with novelty and flair. Moment-to-moment there is a lot I liked about Kingsman, a lot of fun to be had. As long as I was able to keep my brain from whirring away underneath, of course. So in the end, it's been a film I think I've liked less the further I've got away from it, once that initial thrill wears off, and it's frayed heart starts to show.