Saturday, February 28, 2015

Kingsman: The Secret Service

Manners Maketh Man
"Thith Ithn't That Kind of Movie"

Kingsman: The Secret Service (the new film by Matthew Vaughn, after another comic-book series by writer Mark Millar, who also created Kick-Ass) sails along on a satirical track having jolly-good fun being a hybrid of over-the-top James Bond situations (but a bit more arch, like the series imitators) with the dour characters of John le Carre's spy novels, with some tell-tale little clues that something is desperately wrong with it.

Then, it goes disasterously south with an extended sequence where Colin Firth's Harry Hart (codename: Galahad) "berserkers" through a satirical version of the Westboro Baptist Church, killing every single bigot in some grisly fashion—he's under the influence of a signal sent by communications tycoon Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson, speaking in a comic lisp, fulfilling the villain's abnormality requirement). Hert picks his way out of the church where he's confronted by Valentine, two armed thugs, and his blade footed henchman Gazelle (Sofia Boutella). They wax philosophically over the old days of spy movies (in an earlier encounter, the line was "Give me a far-fetched theatrical film any day!"). "This is the part," says Valentine "where I'm supposed to tell you the plot, and then, rather than shoot you, I lock you away in some jail cell that you can easily escape from." He then shoots Hart in the forehead, killing him dead, dead, dead.
"This isn't that kind of movie."

I'll say. But, even while it's pointing out the logical deficiencies of its inspiration, Kingsman isn't doing anything to show any improvement over the genre (quite the opposite, in fact), and merely cements why such things shouldn't be in the hands of Vaughn (who was considered to direct Quantum of Solace, after his defining work with Daniel Craig in Layer Cake) or Quentin Tarantino (who really, really wanted to direct Casino Royale with Pierce Brosnan). Although it wants to be parts Fleming and le Carre (and even a touch of U.N.C.L.E.), it comes off as more Mike Meyers, as directed by Ken Russell (who directed The Billion Dollar Brain, a Len Deighton spy novel, which starred Kingsman's Michael Caine). It's not nearly as oafish and preening (not to mention needy) as the "Austin Powers" series, but it's also not as entertaining as that series can be at its (sometimes) best. But once the church massacre happens, you go back over the film, kicking yourself for giving it that much of a "pass", after a backwards car chase from forward-facing bobbies through thick traffic, or a sequence where Gazelle slices an assailant in half—length-wise, and Samuel jackson spicking with that silly affectation (you know the movie's a clunker if Jackson won't even play it straight).
The plot is the testing of new recruits for the Kingsmen, an elite section of the secret service, comprised of British upper-crust with stiff upper lips and weak chins. It's a bit like Hogwarts for expense account spies. Wouldn't you know it, Valentine simultaneously launches a global assault in which his telecommunications company offers free cell phone coverage and internet with a chip implant embedded in customers' necks. All the better to mind-control you with (no, not just the regular mind control with cell  phones). The purpose is to create a mass-culling of cheap-skates leaving a population of elites willing to pay an arm and a leg for access. Good idea, that, eliminating 95% of your customer base. But Valentine is a crazy idealist who sees humankind as a virus killing the planet. Of course, he hasn't given any thought to who's going to clean up the mess after his lower tier customers massacre each other.
Despite, the obvious inconsistencies in the idea—and to make a good scene, the filmmakers gloss over who has a chip and who doesn't—there are some good things throughout (the score, at its best, recalls John Barry's early Bond work).  But, they're undermined by the snarky nastiness, especially in the film's final section with cell-phones users under the influence trying to kill each other, and the chosen elite having their heads explode in weirdly pop-art animated explosions that form Busby Berkley patterns. It recalls the last of the 60's spy-films, the unfunny chaos of the 1967 comedy version of Casino Royale, rather than any legitimate Bond film (What? No ninja's?) It's a bloody mess.
To Vaughn, it might recall the hey-day of the 60's spy era.

But, this ill-mannered little spoof isn't that kind of movie.

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