Kingsman: The Secret Service movie review: forgets its manners

Kingsman The Secret Service red light

MaryAnn’s quick take…
I cannot recall a film that left me with such a sour taste in my mouth by its end. Does the movie deliberately defy itself with obnoxious intent?
I’m “biast” (pro): love Colin Firth
I’m “biast” (con): the trailer did not inspire hope
I have not read the source material
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

This is not a gentlemanly movie.

Now, most movies are not very gentlemanly, and this isn’t necessarily a problem — except, perhaps, to those of us who lament the passing of true gentlemanliness as a thing a dude might aspire to. But it’s a honking huge problem for Kingsman: The Secret Service. Because this movie makes such a big deal about how gentlemanliness is a thing a dude must exude, certainly if he wants to become a member of the titular elite society of gentleman spies and international men of mystery who answer to no government but only to the highest causes of justice, global peace, and elegance in bespoke attire.

And the movie ultimately betrays the foundations of its own premise in horrendously unforgivable ways.

It’s like this. Harry (Colin Firth: Before I Go to Sleep, Magic in the Moonlight), codename Galahad, recruits Eggsy (Taron Egerton), a kid from the wrong side of the London tracks, to be a member of the Kingsman. Eggsy doesn’t seem to be a good fit, what with all the other Kingsman so posh and at least figuratively noble. The society is funded by royal families across Europe, and they all have Knights of the Round Table spy names: Michael Caine (Interstellar, Now You See Me), their leader, is Arthur; Jack Davenport (Pirate Radio, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End) is another agent codenamed Lancelot; even their Q, played by Mark Strong (The Imitation Game, Before I Go to Sleep), is called Merlin. Eggsy pretty instantly sees that he doesn’t belong here, even if he has a genius IQ, coulda been an Olympic contender (as a gymnast), and dabbled in the Marines. But Harry assures Eggsy — director Matthew Vaughn appears to underscore this scene as containing A Very Important Message — that being a gentleman has nothing to do with where you come from, who your family is, what prep school you went to, what your accent sounds like, or any of that sort of thing. Being a gentleman is about how you behave. It’s about manners. And bespoke suits too, sure. But mostly about manners.

For a good half of its running time, Kingsman is a fairly mundane wannabe spoof of spy stories, as Eggsy goes through a testing regimen to see if he will be able to cut it as a member. I didn’t find it all that clever: characters keep self-referentially discussing the clichés of old spy movies yet insisting that “this isn’t that kind of movie,” when in fact it is totally that kind of movie, rife with the same old clichés, including the clichés that insist they’re about busting other clichés. (A lot of it feels like it has lifted beats and lines of dialogue from Men in Black, too.) Still, I wasn’t hating the film, and was truly enjoying Samuel L. Jackson (Captain America: The Winter Soldier, RoboCop) as Valentine, the villainous yet squeamish tech mogul who’s out to do something bad to the world and obviously must be stopped. And I was loving Firth, who, if there is any justice in moviedom, will soon be heading up a reboot of The Avengers as John Steed, now that we know how great he looks in bespoke Savile Row and what a gentlemanly action hero he can be.

But then the movie gave me pause: Then there comes a test that Eggsy is subjected to, and it has completely the wrong solution, if the Kingsman are truly the gentlemen they say they are.

And then the movie left me cold. Vaughn (X-Men: First Class, Kick-Ass) loves him some ultraviolence, and he offers us a scene of mass slaughter of innocents that is intended to be cool and funny and awesome, taking glee in barbaric bloody carnage that even the characters who are involved in it and are witnessing it are utterly appalled by, and absolutely do not find cool or funny or awesome. The scene is part of Valentine’s evil plan and is meant to convey to us just how evil his plan is… so why does Vaughn want us cheering at it?

Finally, once Eggsy has become a fully fledged Kingsman — oh, you knew that was inevitable, so it’s hardly a spoiler — and has donned the bespoke suit and assumed the mantle of the gentleman, he does something that no gentleman would do. No gentleman ever. This is the film’s final grand joke, played for huge laughs, and it was like a punch in the gut to me. It would be a terrible misfire even in a movie that hadn’t ostensibly been crafting Eggsy into a gentleman, but in this context, it’s positively nightmarish.

I cannot recall a film that left me with such a sour taste in my mouth by the time it came to an end. I was actually enraged. It’s almost as if Kingsman wants to obnoxiously defy itself.

Or else Vaughn is saying, “Fuck manners. Fuck gentility. Fuck kindness. Take whatever you can get, and smirk about it. Be a smug nasty bastard, and own it.”

In which case, I hate this movie even more.

See also my #WhereAreTheWomen rating of Kingsman: The Secret Service for its representation of girls and women.

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, please reconsider.
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