‘I’ ON CULTURE
The new film Kingsman: Secret Service is a wild, crazy, funny bit of a mess. It will never be nominated for an Academy Award, the cast gleefully goes overboard with their lines, and, frankly, I had a ball. November through January is not only the season of Academy Award hopefuls, it is also a time when we wish for something fun. In recent weeks, I saw a genius hobbled by a horrible disease, an aged former superstar haunted by the character he once played and thousands of heroic freedom marchers beaten. Suffice it to say, there were very few laughs. This new film solves that.
Its plot is ridiculous. Imagine the nuttiness of the Roger Moore era of James Bond films, a time when villains were off the wall, puns were rampant, and nothing was taken seriously. Then go another step forward, not quite to the limit of Austin Powers, but far out. That defines the film.
Eggsy (Taron Egerton), the son of a dead secret agent, lives a lousy life with a violent thug of a stepfather. Suddenly he is recruited by Harry Hart (Colin Firth), a bespectacled guy who casually beats the daylights out of the local gang when they annoy him, in order to possibly become a Kingsman. The group, founded by wealthy custom tailors who require a world at peace in order to be able to sell to the wealthy, is so secret that all the national spy groups are not even aware it exists. It works out of a “bespoke” tailor shop on Saville Row, one that clothes the rich. The first part of the film shows the testing process, which is extreme. Candidates are first told to fill out the labels on their own body bags. Eggsy survives the testing but loses out when he refuses to shoot the puppy assigned him as a buddy for the training. Hart tells him to hold on but gets called away.
The reason for that is there is an enemy on the horizon, bespectacled tech billionaire Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson), an ardent climate warming foe who has decided to “cull” humanity in order to save the Earth. His plot is fairly simple: He invents a SIM card for everyone’s phone that will give them free calls and Internet forever. Anyone who pays those bills now will understand the hysterical demand. However, there is a worm in this rich apple: It can, on command, transmit a frequency that will turn anyone within earshot into a psycho killer. With a billion of them distributed, the world will explode in violence when he transmits the signal. Valentine recruits the very top of society and brilliant scientists and tells them to hide away when the violence begins. The key people are in a special Arctic bunker to await the countdown.
Eventually, as is almost always the case in these movies, things come down to an invasion by the hero, Eggsy, into Valentine’s lair, and a wild, improbable battle follows.
As noted earlier, this is a rather improbable plot. On the other hand, by taking paranoia to an extreme, it does make it silly and very, very funny. Of course, just as in the old Bond pictures, things are improbable (although the evil technology seems awfully possible). And director Matthew Vaughn (X-Men: First Class and KickAss) knows how to really use style to make points. The good guys dress ridiculously well; Valentine is a slob. That might actually be the point.
The acting was fine; no one was really stretched much. Firth comes through nicely as a leading man. Michael Caine is wasted as the leader of the group. But no one had to do really tough acting. Who had time to really look for that when the plot moved so quickly?
The violence is extreme; it is cartoonish in its intensity. At one point, Valentine says, “This is the place in most movies where the villain, for some crazy reason, decides not to kill the hero but to explain everything.” Then he shoots Hart, saying, “This is not one of the movies.”
This one is certainly not. But if you don’t mind the crazy plot and the crazy violence, you can have a fun time.