Sunday, June 21, 2015

Kingsman: The Secret Service

The children were particularly reluctant to view this film, Kingsman: The Secret Service, so much so that I thought I might have to go alone. (Which, honestly: No problem.) But The Boy had kind of been stung by missing John Wick, and perhaps taking a sort of sympathetic approach, agreed to go with me.

For various reasons, we actually went on his birthday, and The Flower came, too.

The ads had put the both of them off this one, looking like a dumb spy/action caper flick, apparently. I had heard a lot of good things about it, and while the RT for critics is only 74%, for the audience it's climbed all the way up to the mid-80s, or what you might call Furious 7 territory.

And, as it turns out, it's a very fine film indeed. In fact, of director Matthew Vaughn's five films (X-Men: First Class, Kick-Ass, Stardust and Layer Cake, all co-written with the rather super-heroine-y Jane Goldman), this is my favorite and, I think, the most memorable.

It's a standard enough premise: A young man (relative newcomer Taron Egerton) gets invited to be part of a super-elite spy group, on the basis of his father having laid down his life years before for one of said members of the spy group, played by Mr. Colin Firth. (It's a very Firth-y film, ladies.)

We get a little Hogwart's/Dr. X's School stuff at the front and, naturally, a back-end where the action turns more serious. The "serious" plot running through this is that an evil tech genius (a lisping Samuel L. Jackson) has some plan for world domination involving cell phones and centered around solving the Global Warming problem once and for all.

It's preposterous, but in a knowing, charming way that deliberately pokes at the grim Bond reboot and even the superhero movies. It's also unabashedly critical of "elites" which, I think, is what turned off some of the critics. But whatever you think of environmentalism, it is probably the best vehicle for a would-be sympathetic super-villain to gain world control.

On top of top-notch action and cloak-and-dagger antics, there are a lot of nice little touches in the film. In the comic book, terrorists start by capturing Mark Hamill, apparently. In the movie, the terrorists capture an environmental scientist, which makes more sense for the plot—but he's played by Mark Hamill!

Sofia Boutella plays the best heavy I can recall in years, which is kind of a feat, since she probably weighs 110 pounds and is a double amputee (in the film)—with those super-fast blade legs that actually have blades attached. It's very cool.

At no point do the proceedings take themselves any more seriously than they must, which makes for some nice dramatic twists: There are things that happen that, tonally, you just don't expect. But we don't expect them because we don't see them much anymore: Movies either go super-serious and heavy or completely farcical.

Michael Caine plays the head of Kingsman. Samantha Womack (best known around casa 'strom as the chick in the 1997 Mars-Needs-Women flick Breeders, which is primarily noteworthy for being worse than the 1986 film of the same title and theme, and for the lurid death of its other female lead) plays mom. Sophie Cookson as Hermione. Edward Holcroft as Malfoy.

One scene here made me uncomfortable, I have to admit. There's a mass slaughter inside a church. In the comic book, I think it's a mass wedding, but here it's a Westboro-baptist-style hate-fest. A good character committing an atrocity is really necessary for the plot and dramatic arc for this to happen, and it has to be fairly intense and graphic to work. (And I saw this before the recent church shooting in Charleston—although this church is so far from that one, it probably wouldn't resonate that deeply agains that atrocity.)

So, dramatically, you have a problem: If you shoot up a nursery school, for example, the audience isn't going to like it, regardless of the context. You have to find something the audience can kinda/sorta get behind—almost to the point where it's like a George Carlin/Dennis Leary stand-up bit about "people who should be killed". But you're constrained from candy-coating it, too.

I don't have a great answer to this, dramatically, except maybe if the massacre had been in a den of plotting terrorists, i.e., people planning right at the moment to do real harm. But as far as I know, the most notorious of groups—The Westboro Baptists—have been as awful as you can be without physically causing harm to others.

As such, I felt like I was being asked to go along with the wholesale slaughter of people who have loathsome ideas, and their children. To find it just a little bit "okay".

I'm not really good at demonizing groups of people.

That aside, it was a really remarkable and memorable film, that takes a lot of the popular spy/hero tropes and has fun with them in a distinctive fashion. (The fourth out of our six-film-streak.)

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