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Film Review: Kingsman: The Secret Service

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Kingsman review

★☆☆☆☆

Matthew Vaughn’s films have wandered between the inspired (Layer Cake) and the atrocious (Kick Ass), with X Men: First Class occupying the safe mainstream middle-ground. Cruel, violent and very right-wing, Kingman: The Secret Service is closer to Kick Ass than the other two, although it’s been dressed up as a fun action romp. It’s actually anything but.

The start of this morally bankrupt two hours of carnage involves Colin Firth gratuitously using the word 'f*ck' (because this film is COOL! People SWEAR!) and a woman slicing a man in half with a razor-sharp prosthetic leg. And it all goes downhill from there. As you will probably know from the relentless (though superbly edited) trailers, the film centres around the rehabilitation of a young lad named Egsy (Taron Egerton). He has become involved in drugs and crime but his father was a member of the secret service so, naturally, his old colleague Firth turns up to remove him from his Ken Loach surroundings and throw him into the world of James Bond.

The film is part origins-movie, with a selection process determining who shall become an elite group of spies (known as the Kingsman), headed up by Firth, Michael Caine and a Scottish Mark Strong. In an adaptation on the idea of a ‘tart with a heart’, the film shows Egsy is a dangerous-youth with a heart. The film relies on stigmatising the working classes in order to show that here we have an exception to the rule. The narrative also helps peddle the regrettable myth that single mothers cause families to go downhill and weaken the moral upbringing of children.

Once we’ve gone through the training stage the story offers up a world-domination plan courtesy of a lisping Samuel L. Jackson. Eccentric and afraid of blood, this is a Bond-villain times a hundred and it is also important that he is an environmentalist (a type of person the Right frequently like to demonise).

The most repulsive scene in the film, and there are many to chose from, involves a shocking massacre of a church congregation. The scene itself cries out to be exciting, daring, taboo-breaking and, above all, enjoyable. It’s set to a rock soundtrack and frenetically shot, with one of our heroes, Colin Firth, gorily mutilating the group of innocent people. There is some context needed here, however. First, the churchgoers are preaching hatred; they are a bunch of homophobes and racists. Second, Firth gets carried away with the violence due to a twist linked to our villain’s world domination plans. However, it is troubling at best, and downright pernicious at worst, to suggest that the brutal massacre of a group of people is acceptable and terrific cartoony fun because they harbour discriminatory attitudes. It legitimises sadism and nastiness. And it plays out all too chillingly when you consider recent events in Paris.

This isn’t the first time a Vaughn-made film has trivialised brutality so as to appeal to a particularly virulent part of our society. Kick-Ass tried to pleasure its audience by depicting a child casually murdering a bunch of criminals. And let’s not forget Vaughn and his company produced Daniel Barber’s repulsive Daily Mail-style film Harry Brown (which also starred Michael Caine) which celebrated and encouraged vigilante violence.

The best thing about Kingsman is actually young actor Taron Egerton. He manages his character very well and succeeds in being likable – something very hard to do in a work as obnoxious as this. Mark Strong is also excellent (he always is), but Firth and Caine look a little embarrassed about what they’ve wandered into.

Finales of action blockbusters are often violent, but they rarely do they feature (slight spoiler alert) Barack Obama’s head exploding. And as if this wasn’t enough to swallow, the closing moments feature a gleeful Egsy preparing to anally penetrate a Swedish princess. She told him if he manages to save the world, they can have anal sex. So he does save the world and he does have anal sex. And the filmmakers can all pat themselves on the back for probing another taboo in the name of entertainment. Of course, there is nothing wrong with anal sex and filmmakers are at perfect liberty to fill their movies with it. It’s not about the act itself, it’s about the way it is used as a device that plays into a crude and ‘laddish’ sensibility that needs to be discouraged (something that is accentuated by the film’s repeated glorifying of The Sun newspaper).  This isn’t cool or enlightening, it’s immature and vulgar. And like most of the film, it leaves a very nasty taste. Even so, I’m willing to accept many will declare Kingman as ‘totally awesome’ and never think about what it stands for. That’s what truly depresses me.

Kingsman: The Secret Service is in cinemas now, Certificate 15. Watch the trailer below:

 




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