Monday, February 23, 2015

It Came From The Cineplex: Kingsman: The Secret Service

We're still in the dreaded Beginning Of The Year Film Dumping Ground, but don't despair! There's a light at the end of the tunnel, as there are actually one or two movies out there worthy of your time. Like this one! It's been a long, long time since I've had this much fun watching a movie!

Kingsman: The Secret Service was written by Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn, and was also directed by Vaughn.

It's very loosely based on the comic book The Secret Service by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons. Millar was the writer of the Wanted and Kick-Ass comics, both of which became feature films. Gibbons was co-writer and artist of the Watchmen graphic novel, which also got the movie treatment.

Matthew Vaughn is also no stranger to comic book films, as he wrote and directed both Kick-Ass and X-Men: First Class.

In addition to Vaughn as director, the film also has a very comic book-y cast, featuring Samuel L. Jackson (The Avengers), Michael Caine (the Dark Knight films), Mark Hamill (who played the Joker in Batman: The Animated Series and the Trickster in the 1990s The Flash series), and Mark Strong (Kick-Ass).

The movie pays homage to the early James Bond films and their various tropes, subverting them without resorting to outright mocking. Colin Firth's dapper and deadly Galahad character owes much to John Steed of The Avengers (the one with Diana Rigg, not the Marvel one), while the "Green Recruit Joins A Secret Organization" plot line is quite similar to that of Men In Black. It also revels in its insane level of over-the-top comic book violence, much like Vaughn's Kick-Ass did.

Colin Firth was an unusual choice for an action hero, but was surprisingly believable in the role. Watch out, Liam Neeson! 

The movie was set to premiere on November 14, 2014, but was pushed back to Mark 6, 2015. It was later moved up to October 24, 2015, but ultimately released on February 13, 2015. Jesus, make up your mind, guys!

Constant schedule shufflings like this are usually a sure sign the studio's got a bomb on their hands, but it turned out to not be the case this time.


The Plot:
Seventeen years ago, a team of Kingsmen (a super secret British spy agency) travels to the Middle East on a mission. Led by Galahad (played by Colin Firth), the operation goes horribly wrong and a fellow agent is killed. Galahad visits the agent's widow and young son Eggsy, giving the boy a medal with a phone number on the back. He tells Eggsy that if he ever needs help of any kind, to call the number.

In the present day Eggsy (played by Taran Egerton) is now an unemployed young Londoner living with his mother, half sister and abusive stepfather. Eggsy's highly intelligent, but lacks motivation and purpose (don't we all?). After being arrested for stealing a car, he calls the number on the back of the medal. Galahad arranges his release and tells him of the existence of the Kingsmen, and urges him to join the organization.

Eggsy agrees and is taken to a secret underground bunker, where he and several other recruits compete for the chance to become the new Agent Lancelot (who was recently killed). The training is supervised by Merlin (Mark Strong). Through the power of a montage, the contestants are eliminated until only two remain— Eggsy and a young woman named Roxy.

Meanwhile, evil internet billionaire Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson) announces he's giving away free cell phone and internet access to the world. Galahad poses as a billionaire and meets with Valentine to gather intel. Valentine says the rampant, unchecked human population is a virus, and global warming is the Earth's equivalent to a fever. He has a plan to cull the excess population before the virus kills the host.

To that end, Valentine has invented a signal that causes humans to become uncontrollably violent and kill one another. He abducts various celebrities, politicians and scientific minds and installs chips in their heads to protect them from his rage signal. He then plans to broadcast the signal throughout the world, causing humanity to destroy itself. Once that's done, he and his hand-picked group will remake the world in their own image.

Eggsy fails the final test and Roxy becomes the new Lancelot. Galahad tries to stop Valentine, but is killed by him. Eggsy then discovers that Arthur (Michael Caine), the head of the Kingsmen, has been compromised by Valentine. Eggsy kills Arthur, then teams up with Merlin and Lancelot to stop Valentine and save the Earth before it's too late.

Lancelot floats into the upper atmosphere in a high-altitude balloon and takes out one of Valentine's satellites, disrupting the rage signal. Eggsy and Merlin infiltrate Valentine's lair. Eggsy battles Valentine's assistant Gazelle, a woman with razor sharp prosthetic blade legs. He defeats her, kills Valentine, and saves the world.

Eggsy becomes the new Galahad, dressing just like his former mentor, and rescues his mother and sister from her abusive husband.

• In the comic book, Eggsy's character is named Gary London. In the film, he's Gary "Eggsy" Unwin. I wonder... did they call him Eggsy in the film because he's played by Taran Egerton? Or was that just a coincidence?

• This is some extreme title nitpicking her, but what the heck. Why is the film called KingsMAN? The organization is called KingsMEN. Is it referencing the tailoring shop, which is called Kingsman? Or is it alluding to Eggsy himself, who becomes a new Kingsman? Either way, it just sounds wrong.

• Things I Learned From This Movie: The existence of bespoke suits. "Bespoke" is a posh way of saying "customized" or "tailored."

By the way, all the Kingsmen's clothing and accessories were created by real life Savile Row clothiers in London, and can actually be purchased if you have the notion to dress like a gentleman spy (and have several thousand dollars to spare).

Oh, and the thick black 1960's glasses Firth wears in the film are a nod to Michael Caine's Harry Palmer in The Ipcress File.

• There are a couple of homages to classic 1960s TV spy series in the movie. The entry to the Kingsmen's headquarters is through a posh tailor shop, just like in The Man From Uncle. Later when Galahad is showing Eggsy his spy gear, he demonstrates a shoe with a spring-loaded blade in the toe, saying that older models used to have a phone in the heel, which is just like Maxwell Smart's footwear in Get Smart.

• There's a big, potentially fatal plot hole in the film— specifically the Kingsmen's selection process for new agents. Instead of discreetly inducting one new recruit, for some reason they hold a grueling Survivor-style elimination contest to fill the empty slot. Eggy's just one of eight or nine potential recruits vying for the coveted agent vacancy. That's certainly a novel approach for a top secret spy organization!

At first I thought maybe when a recruit washed out of the program, the Kingsmen would wipe his or her memory with the amnesia drug that Galahad used in the film. But Eggsy flunks the final test, and nothing happens to him. Galahad doesn't use his amnesia drug on him.

And later on when Eggsy infiltrates Valentine's super villain lair, he encounters his former fellow contestant Charlie, who was also eliminated from the program. Charlie definitely remembers Eggsy blows his cover, so obviously his memory wasn't wiped either.

So apparently whenever a recruit is rejected, the Kingsmen just turn them loose and hope they don't start blabbing about their existence.

• I'm not a fan of the weird lisp affected by Samuel L. Jackson in the film. He convinced director Vaughn to let him play the part that way, saying, "I did the lisp because people tend to dismiss people who have defects."

Jackson knows of what he speaks, because he stuttered when he was young and worked hard to overcome it.

• Mark Hamill plays Professor Arnold, a climatologist kidnapped by Valentine. In the comic, the villain is named Dr. Arnold, and the first celebrity he kidnaps is Mark Hamill. Wakka wakka!

• Sofia Boutella plays Gazelle, Valentine's blade-legged henchman, er, woman. For the record, Boutella is not a double amputee, but is a renowned dancer. Her legs were replaced with blades through the magic of cgi.

Many classic Bond villains and henchmen had some sort of deadly handicap like Gazelle's. In Dr. No, the title character had metal hands, Tee-Hee had a metallic hook hand in Live And Let Die, and in Moonraker and The Spy Who Loved Me, Jaws had a set of metal choppers.

Irony Alert! This sounds like internet bushwah to me, but supposedly the producers approached Olympic amputee Oscar Pistorious, who really does have blades for legs, about playing the Gazelle role. He declined, wanting to focus on running instead of playing a psychotic killer in a movie. Of course in 2013 Pistorius shot and killed his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. 

• Moviegoers will no doubt be divided over the "Church Massacre" sequence, in which Galahad kills a hundred or so rage-induced members of a Kentucky congregation. For the record I loved it, and was very impressed with Colin Firth's fighting moves. Who knew the star of Bridget Jones's Diary was such a badass?

• I really wish Galahad hadn't been killed. His death was the only part of the film I didn't like. I get that it was done for plot purposes, but surely there was another way to show the stakes were high. If there's a sequel, do not be surprised if he returns somehow.

• When we see the conference room in the Kingsmen's headquarters, there are twelve chairs. That makes sense, as all the agents have King Arthur code names, and most versions of the story list twelve Knights Of The Round Table (Arthur, Lencelot, Galahad, Gawain, Geraint, Percival, Bors The Younger, Lamorak, Kay, Gareth, Bedivere, Gaheris and Tristan).

I'm assuming there are more than twelve people in the organization— there have to be secretaries, IT technicians and custodians, right? So the Arthurian names must be reserved for just  the top level agents.

• Right before Valentine puts his evil plan into motion, he notices that his "chosen one" guests seem down and aren't having a good time. He gives them a pep talk, using Noah's Ark as a metaphor. 

He says, "Noah and the ark. Was God the bad guy? Was Noah the bad guy? What about those little animals marching two by two? No!" Somehow this works up the crowd and they all perk up and are into the plan again.

Um... I hate to break it to Valentine, but God most definitely is the villain of Noah's Ark. He gets pissed when humanity, which he himself created, starts with the sinning, so he tells Noah to build and ark in order to save a chosen few while he floods the whole world and starts over. 

What about all the infants that God drowned in the flood? What sin could they possibly have committed, other than soiling their diapers? What about all the animals God killed? How the hell does an animal sin? Think of the billions of lives God snuffed out with the flood. Seems a bit overkill to me. I don't see how anyone could look at that story and NOT see God as a Bond villain.

• All of Valentine's guards and chosen people have microchips implanted in their heads, to protect them from the rage signal. Merlin figures out that he can incapacitate Valentine's people by overloading the chips, causing their heads to explode in an orgy of gore and violence. 

The exploding head effects looked extremely fake to me, like tiny, garishly-colored mushroom clouds. I'm assuming they made them look fake on purpose, to make the scene a little less bloody and horrific.

• Just a couple of days after this film was released, an episode of Marvel's Agent Carter series used the exact same "rage signal" plot. I'm sure it was just a coincidence, but it's funny how they both came out on practically the same day.

• Eggsy relays a message to his mother to lock her baby daughter in the bathroom for safety. She does so right before the rage signal starts up, causing her to try and break down the bathroom door in order to kill her daughter.

Oddly enough the signal doesn't seem to affect the baby. The signal's coming from the Mom's phone— did the bathroom door muffle the rage signal, or does it just not work on infants?

It would have been funny if it had though, seeing the mom and baby trying to claw through the door to get to one another.

• Valentine activates the rage signal by pressing his hand on his fancy hi-tech touch screen computer desk. As long as his hand is touching the desk, the signal will be broadcast. If he lifts his hand for even a second, the signal's interrupted.

Well that was certainly convenient! Not to mention stupid on Valentine's part. Why make such a cumbersome interface? It'd be like having to hold down the print key on your keyboard for as long as it takes your document to print. Why wouldn't Valentine just set it up so he pressed a button and was done with it?

They try to smooth this over with a lame explanation, but obviously this was done for plot trickery reasons, so that once Eggsy killed Valentine he'd slump to the floor and the rage signal would stop instantly. It was still mighty clunky though.

Kingsman: The Secret Service is a fun and gleefully violent homage to classic Bond films and the gentleman spy genre, and one of the few bright spots in the otherwise dismal beginning of the year movie landscape. I give it an A-.


  1. Don't know how this affects anything to do with the story but I took Eggsy to be alluding to an egg or Humpty Dumpty where "...all the King's horsemen and all the KING'S MEN couldn't put Humpty together again"

    Great review as ever though.

  2. Interesting! I hadn't thought about the Humpty connection. You may be right there.


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