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Overall Rating

Awesome: 13.33%
Worth A Look: 33.33%
Pretty Bad: 0%
Total Crap: 0%

1 review, 9 user ratings

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Kingsman: The Secret Service
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by Jay Seaver

"Empty suits."
3 stars

Comic book writer Mark Millar has come up with a good racket in recent years; he may be far from the best storyteller in the medium, but he's unmatched in pitching ideas (usually "familiar concept with a twist that makes it more violent") and self-promoting in a way that gets both readers and Hollywood to buy in early, especially since he's had enough prior success to attract talented collaborators. What comes out the other side is generally good-looking but cynical junk, and "Kingsman" - talented director Matthew Vaughn's adaptation of "The Secret Service", a comic Millar did with talented artist Dave Gibbons - doesn't buck the trend by much.

The film posits a privately-funded intelligence agency that fancies itself knights of a modern-day round table, run by "Arthur" (Michael Caine), with the knights nominating potential replacements when one of their number falls. The deaths of two agents - one in 1997 and one in 2014 - set things up, with "Galahad" Harry Hart promising a favor to the son of the first and nominating the grown Gary "Egsy" I win (Taron Egerton) when the second dies investigating the kidnapping of a climate-change researcher (Mark Hamill). So while Galahad follows a trail that leads to internet mogul and philanthropist Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson), working-class Egsy finds himself in a potentially-lethal "job interview" against aristocratic competition.

There are actually kernels of interesting ideas in here, whether they come from the original comic or the screenplay by Vaughn and Jane Goldman: The script isn't cute about hiding that Egsy is very far out of place among the upper-class types that populate Kingsman, and Valentine's scheme is born out of extreme environmentalism. Unfortunately, the movie doesn't have the courage of its apparent convictions. Put aside the fact that for all its early platitudes, it's still set up as a bunch of white guys saving the world from a self-made African-American man and his differently-abled partner (Sofia Boutella) - if class is a thing you're going to give lip service to, maybe having the most principled character be an actual princess isn't the way to go. Or maybe, on the way to attacking Valentine's base to stop his horrifying plan, you could actually deal with how many apparently intelligent people he is able to convince of its necessity. There's a moment of blood and guts near the end that could have been hugely cathartic, but because the movie doesn't let its well-earned resentment actually go all the way to the core, it just wins up being the sort of violence that begs for attention by how extreme the artists are willing to be.

Which isn't to say that there's no joy in Kingsman's mayhem. Vaughn can direct a heck of an action scene, and when he lets loose, there's an occasionally great sense of widespread chaos being cut through via highly-ordered determination, for good or ill. The pacing necessary to get to those sequences isn't always perfect, and the times when he and his crew perfectly evoke 1960s spy-fi adventures are somewhat diminished by the times he and Goldman feel the need to name-check the spot movies they're referencing, but when the action starts, there's no doubt that they know exactly what they're trying to achieve.

That's due in large part to two not-so-secret weapons. Sofia Boutella's Gazelle is more than the gimmick of her razor-sharp prosthetic legs which push the action crew to do fun things rather than the same old fistfight, though she and the filmmakers work the fact that the character is basically standing on springs all the time for all it's worth. She's powerful and determined even when shown from the waist up, playing her role straight enough that Samuel L. Jackson often winds up feeling like the comedy sidekick rather than the alpha villain. Then there's Colin Firth, playing Galahad as more a rough-and-tumble Harry Palmer than a smooth James Bond. There's a direct correlation between how much fun a scene is and how much it involves Firth shedding his refined skin and efficiently showing that Mister Darcy is not to be taken lightly.

You probably couldn't do that for a whole movie, but it might have been more entertaining had they tried, rather than making Egsy the actual main character. It's not Taron Egerton's fault that he's stuck with one of those characters who is meant to be a punk but obviously too nice - when he puts on a suit later on, it fits too well - but he's a rather bland counterpart to Firth. Same goes for Sophie Cookson, Edward Holcroft, and the various others up for the open position, and even Michael Caine and Mark Strong aren't as entertainingly cast against type as one might hope. For all Samuel L. Jackson does a lot of goofy stuff... Well, again, it seems like it would be more fun to see Gazelle take charge.

Does knowing where this movie came from cause me to judge it more harshly than I might otherwise? I think it's more likely that knowing its origins helps to explain why a movie with a few good action scenes, some clever casting - and even the intent to say something - is not nearly as thrilling as it should be.

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originally posted: 02/25/15 14:35:19
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User Comments

9/09/17 morris campbell good homage 2 bond & comic book flicks 4 stars
6/14/17 Charles Tatum Good enough, but kind of forgettable 4 stars
9/16/15 mr.mike I found it to be worth watching on DVD. 4 stars
6/05/15 alessandro pampolino awesome movie..a must watch 5 stars
6/02/15 Oz1701 it was a fun romp but some of the violence detracts from that esthete 4 stars
5/06/15 Man Out Six Bucks This movie rules. Original, funny and sexy 5 stars
2/23/15 KingNeutron Not for everyone, but a good homage to Bond and well worth seeing 4 stars
2/23/15 The Big D Comic-book style spoof that parodies classic spy films-good for a laugh. 3 stars
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  13-Feb-2015 (R)
  DVD: 09-Jun-2015

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  05-Feb-2015 (MA)
  DVD: 09-Jun-2015

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