This is the latest in a series of blogs I’ve called “A Year of Unlimited”, which isn’t perhaps the catchiest way to put it, but encapsulates my attempts to blog about every film I see while I’m signed up to the Unlimited service. I’m not linking to every one, so go and find them yourselves!
One of the things about being a film nerd is that you know the names of directors and the previous films they’ve made. I always end up realising just how much info I retain when I say a director’s name and am met with a “who?!”. With that in mind, the director of Kingsman: The Secret Service is Matthew Vaughn, who previously directed Kick-Ass, Stardust, Layer Cake and X-Men: First Class. That way, you’ll appreciate why I’m so negative about this film – because Vaughn’s previous films were so good that my expectations were high, and were completely shot down.
Eggsy (Taron Egerton) is a chav with no dad who’s lost his way, and who – on getting in trouble with the police – is bailed out by debonair spy Harry Hart (Colin Firth), a member of a super-secret agent group called the Kingsmen. From there on, we follow Eggsy as he works his way through joining the organisation, which is trying to deal with the nefarious activities of billionaire Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson), who aims to end the world. Riffs on James Bond, the rich/poor divide in the UK and plenty of bloodshed (and some humour) follow.
I was expecting this to be a Kick-Ass for spy movies: taking the mick out of the genre while including some great humour and action. Instead, this film was just a complete miss for me on every level. The film swings one way and then the other in terms of trying to entertain and shock – something Kick-Ass did very well – but it goes a bit too dark in its quest to outrage (one scene in a church in particular, as well as some elements of the villain’s world-ending plot), and it’s just not that funny. In addition, it also tries too hard not to be like everyone’s favourite womanising, psychopathic secret agent, but then by the end gives up and falls back into becoming an even more immature version of Bond – all weirdly crass jokes and one-liners.
Egerton is pretty good as the chavvy, Eliza Doolittle-style protagonist, and I feel bad for him – with a better script and better thought-out story, the film would be too. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for the rest of the cast – Colin Firth plays Colin Firth as Bond, and there’s not much else to add – a shame considering how I was impressed at him sending up his stereotype in Before I Go To Sleep. Samuel L. Jackson is absolutely terrible as the awful Valentine – who told him pretending to have a lisp would be a good idea for a bad guy? He should stick to the Marvel films if this is what we can expect from him when he branches out. Michael Caine is Michael Caine as an older mentor, while Mark Strong is at least cast against type as the Kingsmen’s Q, though he doesn’t really stand out. The same can be said for the rest of the cast, including a strangely-cast Mark Hamill as a global warming science professor (yes, really) and Sofia Boutella as a henchwoman with a freaky body modification (Pistorius-style sword legs). Other female roles are relegated to bit-parts, and one really out-of-place series of jokes towards the end pretty much nail the film’s disparaging attitude to women – surprising considering how strong and non-objectified both Hit-Girl and Mystique are in Kick-Ass and X-Men: First Class.
The movie threatens at times to be more than the sum of its parts, but then always seems to retreat away, with even the violence being strangely-bloodless. People are shot point-blank in the face, or split in half, but there’s a really odd absence of blood – it’s all a bit videogamey. The film also seems to nudge at the class divide in this country with a lot of the plot, but it doesn’t go anywhere, and just seems to be an excuse for a chavvy response to anything cool, like “that is sick” – it’s really simplistic and seems a bit offensive sometimes (particularly when it comes to the portrayal of his mum as a pathetic woman under the whim of a typical East End gangstaaaar).
I’m sitting here thinking over and over about what else I could say about this film – other than some jolting plot twists (which watchers of Vaughn’s previous films will know about) that only really serve to shock, I was – quite honestly – bored by this film. The action is weirdly shot, so you question why it looks like you’re watching something filmed on the cheap; the casting is supposed to be clever (Firth was always rumoured to be up for Bond; Michael Caine because of Harry Palmer) but misses the point; and the plot just doesn’t do anything (though that can be laid at comic book supremo Mark Millar’s feet – he wrote Kick-Ass as well, but here seems to have lost his way, much like Vaughn).
Kingsman: The Secret Service could have been so much more – should have been so much more – but it feels like a puberty-ridden, game-obsessed teenage boy’s fever dream after watching a particularly puerile Roger Moore Bond. A real disappointment.