Kingsman: The Secret Service kind of came out of nowhere for me. When I first saw trailers for it, it struck me as just another action movie where bros go to bro out over guns and babes.
However! Colin Firth is in it. And I cannot believe that Colin Firth would make that kind of movie.
On top of that, I also learned that it was based on a comic of the same name by Mark Millar, the dude who wrote Kickass and Marvel’s Civil War, the subject of the next Captain America movie. And then it was described to me as a satirical action film. Not just an action-comedy. All of these things stacked on top of my becoming more open to action films after watching The Man From Nowhere in my Intro to Film Studies course last semester (so so excellent). It deserved a chance.
The premise of Kingsman is simple enough. Secret spy agency. Kid grows up rough. Spy agency dude owes that kid’s dead dad a favor. None of those are spoilers, it’s all in the first five minutes of the film. As an avid comic book reader myself, it was really cool, having that context, to watch the film from the perspective of, “oh, this was a comic. I can tell how this all would work in a comic. Awesome.” I was able to see how the story and the images would have worked in a comic, and how they had been translated from the page to the screen. And it all translated to the screen quite well. It works as a film in its own right and not just as a film-that-was-a-comic. There’s one scene in particular that really stuck out to me as “oh wow, this film is comics.” It ended up being my favorite scene of the film, and I don’t want to spoil it, but it involves Colin Firth’s character, the guitar solo from Free Bird, and a whole hell of a lot of hyper-violence. It was gorgeous.
I absolutely loved Kingsman. I want to preface this next bit by saying just how much I adore this film. I am happy it exists in the world and that it got made.
Looking back with a critical eye at some of its parodic elements/attempts at parody (and I even thought this in the moment), it falls flat in some places. Recognizing that the film was trying to parody spy films of the 60s and 70s, a lot of its attempts at humor just were not parody, and really rubbed me the wrong way.
Kingsman tries very hard to make sure you know it is a satire without telling you outright and, for the most part, it gets this very right. When it does, it is absolutely fantastic. This tends to be when the film is completely over the top and transparent about the fact that it is making fun of something. The spy headquarters, the gadgets, the evil scheme, even the common tropes of spy films themselves are dealt with and parodied in a very funny and effective way. There’s a scene where millions of people’s heads explode, and it’s hilarious because it’s so obviously a joke.
But the way the film deals with other ridiculous aspects of old spy movies, particularly the sexism, don’t work nearly as well. In fact, they don’t work as parody at all. In these situations, the film seems to rely on the assumption that some things are “just funny.” And these tend to be pretty offensive things that society has (or, we hope, had) agreed are fun to laugh at. So the case can be made that the film is showing the ridiculousness of these things by simply presenting them as they are, but it really just comes off as lazy. Especially since these things haven’t completely been dealt with yet. They’re still pretty present.
I’m talking specifically about women being treated as objects, and women being used as sexual motivation for male heroes. Rather than creating a useful, satirical statement, relying on these things for laughs simply as they are feels more like perpetuating the same ridiculous presumptions as the film’s subject material.
That said, though–and I don’t want to downplay the problems of modern sexism in cinema–these are fairly minor points in the film. The disappointment in their handling is larger than the part they actually play in the story. As a whole, Kingsman is a pretty excellent commentary on old spy movies and, outside of that, a pretty excellent film.
I’d watch it again. And again. I’d pay to own a copy. And that’s saying something.
Final thought: if you enjoyed this film and want to check out some hyper-violent comics, look for Brian Wood’s The Couriers. It’s a masterpiece.
— Mike Egan, Film Blogger