Film Review: Kingsman: The Secret Service

To say that I was a little bit apprehensive of Kingsman: The Secret Service is an understatement. I, like a lot of people I’m sure, when first hearing that Colin Firth was playing a “posh spy” conjured up images of slow, stuffy elitism; James Bond with a cucumber sandwich and a Barbour coat  if you will. And then I saw the trailer, which hit me squarely between the eyes with silly, slapstick tomfoolery that appeared to be a step and a half outside reality, let alone the ideas of anything remotely sane, interesting or upper-class. To say I instantly wrote the film off would be more than a fair and accurate conclusion.

And things seemed to be confirmed and compounded when, in the run up to its release every poster and trailer that demanded my attention was headed by Matthew Vaughan, Director of Kickass, a marketing move that seemed a little odd to say the least. With Hollywood big-hitters like Michael Caine, Samuel L Jackson and the aforementioned Firth leading the troupes, utilising the director and not it’s cast as the main marketing angle seemed to strike as the final proof that this film was going to be bad.

Paddington Colin Firth - Kingsman: The Secret Service

Yet, when the reviews arrived people claimed it was good? Divisive, ultra violent and extraordinarily rude; but good. Had I misjudged it? So through slightly gritted teeth I took the plunge and went to see it. And annoyingly, the movie I found, wasn’t good. It was bloody great!

Firstly, my worries about Firth are misplaced. While I normally have a natural withdrawal from him as I’ve spoken about in previous reviews, this time around the fit is as good as his suits. He is perfect for the role. He won me over, I forgot he was Firth and aside from an opening 10 minutes when my brain was stuck going “yeah his voice just wouldn’t have worked for Paddington“. I can safely say, that nobody could have played this part better.

A lot has also been made of just how violent and foul of language it is. But I didn’t actually find it that way if I’m honest. I’ve seen more shockingly grotesque films and yes, the language is rude more often than not, but it fits and feels right. It’s all a question of context and tone. It’s a paradoxical comedy. It’s a serious joke. Kingsman: The Secret Service reminds me greatly of the Hot Shots! spoofs of the early nineties. They are there to poke fun about the genre in which they sit. They aren’t designed to stand on their own two feet or be independent. They are a narrative one-liner at the seriousness of the world around them. And it does it brilliant because it knows this. I love the imagery, the sleight of hand references to Bond, Star Wars and even The Shinning that litter the film, and the use of the soundtrack to enhance the comedic impact while lessen the shocking nature is pure film making magic.

Hot Shots! Part Deux (Kill Count) - Kingsman: The Secret Service

A lot has been made though that it takes it’s displays of violence one step too far, and a particular event in a church is often referenced as proof and yet for me, once again, it’s a false accusation to throw at the film. Hot Shots! put a kill count on screen and everybody laughed. Kingsman put a crucifix and everybody tutted and said “that’s not on”. In fact, I’d go as far to say that I was almost wanting more violence! Not because the film needs it, but because everyone had said this film was so violent that for a large part of it I was feeling entertainingly cheated. I enjoyed it but couldn’t work out what people were on about. I constantly expected it to burst into a hail of gun fire and it never really happens. But it never needs to either.

For a film with comedic intentions, it certainly isn’t roll on the floor with laughter funny. But once again, it’s a case of tone and context, because it’s not that type of comedy. It’s sprinkled with a few one liners that land a decent chuckle, and it uses them to lighten the mood just enough to ensure it keeps you on side and balances everything out when the bullets do start flying but it’s a subtle brand of humour rather than a full slapstick routine.

All is not brilliant though. Because at times the film is a little predictable, you can arrive regularly ahead of the plot and it then labours to point out what you’ve already guessed but I can forgive it because underneath it all is a thoroughly implausible but fun story. And there is one scene that felt comedically immature. Resulting in me losing interest briefly in the film because I felt it just a bit too silly, too lowest common denominator. I guessed it’d happen, but how they portray it felt cheap in comparison to the rest of the film.

Taron Egerton & Michael Caine - Kingsman: The Secret Service

Worse of all though is the fact that the film feels set up for a franchise, or at minimum a sequel, and I don’t really want one. I don’t feel like it needs one. I almost feel that Kingsman: The Secret Service has played it’s hand and made it’s point in such a surprisingly good way that to risk it all by coming back is a risk not worth taking.

I prejudged Kingsman: The Secret Service; doubting it’s credentials to be anything other than a complete disaster and yet, have come away having had one of my best cinematic experiences in a very long time. Having been bombarded recently with heavy, thought provoking Oscar bait (Whiplash, The Theory Of Everything, American Sniper etc.) to have an afternoon of simple mindless escapism that is created with such wonderful precision is not only needed and wanted but also, the perfect reminder of just how varied, fulfilling and individualised cinema can be.

9 out of 10 stars (9 / 10)

Posted on by 5WC in Film First Edition

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