Sunday, 7 June 2015

'Kingsman: The Secret Service' review.

The DVD release date for Matthew Vaughn's 'Kingsman' is tomorrow, so I thought I would celebrate by reviewing it in all it's glory. More after the break.

I've now seen this film no less than four times, so I can review it in perspective of that. I saw it once in a packed preview screening in Edinburgh, once at a reasonably quiet midnight movie session in New York, and twice on the video-on-demand distribution system with which it has been released for a couple of weeks now. The truth is, it's fantastic, but much in the same way as 'Kick-Ass' was. Expecting nothing, the first time you witness the film you will be amazed, shocked and laugh so hard it hurts. Yet, over time, unfortunately the effect will dissipate and later viewings will not yield the same value as before. More on that later.
'Kingsman' - pure style.

Vaughn knows his audience have seen plenty of spy films. When he directed 'Kick-ass' he knew his audience had seen a lot of superhero films. It's purely the nature of popular culture. In knowing this, he has a choice: he could create a gently humorous and self aware poke at the genre; or he could make 'Kingsman': a balls to the wall, bloody, brutal, hilarious and thrilling white knuckle coaster that's most certainly not for kids.

As you can probably tell, he chose the latter.

'Kingsman' roughly follows a three-act structure. In the first, we meet our main protagonist: 'Eggsy'. We see his mediocre life, his wasted potential and his fading hopes and dreams, climaxing in what most be the most joyous, yet disturbing car chase in history. In the second act, we see 'Eggsy' trained up by the titular organisation, and in the third, well, of course, 'Eggsy' has to save the world...
A 'happy' meal

So pretty typical stuff really, but what Vaughn strives for is the typical in this sense. In a 'Cabin in the Woods' type setup, it's what we DON'T usually see that truly matters. And this is genuinely pure entertainment. First of all, the comedy. 'Kingsman' is absolutely hilarious: Vaughn's intended audience are those who have seen many spy films, are aware of popular culture, and enjoy occasionally explicit physical and verbal gags. Don't get me wrong, the humor is never nasty in the sense that many proclaimed 'Kick-Ass' to be - it's just simply fun. For example, in a scene in Samuel Jackson's billionaire mansion, two characters dine on McDonalds. It's a bizarre yet sensical visual gag in context, but Colin Firth's one liner ("Thank you for the excellent evening". "And thank you for a 'happy" meal") is just innocent, cathartic bliss.  For a film to be this enjoyable and discuss more than a few themes without becoming heavy handed or bad taste is extraordinary. One more thing that I love, the film also frequently self references. Watch out particularly for Samuel Jackson - at least half of his lines are endlessly quotable.

Which brings me onto the slightly more explicit content. Slightly, in this context, is most certainly a euphemism. We are treated to a large amount of sexual innuendo for one. Although this feels simply necessary in a spy caper. Even in the tame, PG rated Bond flicks of old, these references abound and many would argue that the spy genre is in dept to performances from astoundingly beautiful women over the years. Vaughn deftly plays tribute to these with a hilarious and oddly touching moment which concludes his feature. On top of this, the language is consistently coarse. 'Kingsman' brings to our attention that in real life people say things such as 'fuck' and not 'sugar'. As such, in the spy world, although 'Bond' does not portray it as such, Vaughn displays this with such manic glee that it's impossible not to just follow him and have a rollicking good time to boot.

The church scene - breathtaking.
And the violence, oh, the violence. People complained that 'Kick-Ass' had too much violence, but three scenes in 'Kingsman' put that adventure to shame. Indeed, there is extreme bloodshed throughout, but today's cinema audience has been shown much of this before. What they have not seen however, is Colin Firth expertly cutting through a WHOLE Pentecostal church set to Lynnard Skynnard's 'Free Bird' with virtually only melee weapons. It's the most joyous, shocking, hilarious, satisfying and beautifully choreographed fight scene I have EVER seen (unless of course you are part of one of these fundamentalist hate groups, in which case, screw you anyway). All four times I have seen this film the scene gives me infinite chills - I just can't help grinning. Vaughn shows us our inner child in the most expertly stylish way possible. And the other scenes are nearly as good, I won't spoil it for you, but the party music used in the final fight is the perfect comedic touch.

'Kingsman' - simply crazy
The performances are spectacular also. Not one character is off, and Vaughn does create his fair share of characters. We have Samuel L Jackson as 'Valentine', an egotistical maniacal sociopath of 'Bond' lore, but with a technological twist. Jackson plays himself (if you get what I mean - the 'Bad Motherfucker' ) to an alarmingly good level. On the other hand, we have quintessentially British 'Harry Ford', played by Colin Firth. Let me just say now that this is the best performance Firth has ever given in his career, and I doubt he will be able to top that. Amongst these, we meet Scottish gadgeteers, posh bigots, deadly amputees,  and the immensely likable main protagonist from da East end, innit.

But really, the defining image of 'Kingsman' is the thought of Eggsy having anal sex with a Swedish princess straight after blowing Obama's head up - and that aint even a spoiler!

But why have I docked it a star? Because on the three final times I watched it, it just didn't live up to my expectations. It's exactly what I thought about 'Kick - Ass': once you've experienced the immense catharticism that comes with it, repeat viewings aren't as rewarding. No audience was as enthusiastic as the first, and as such, I have slightly falling out of love with what I presumed would be the best blockbuster of the year back in January. The jokes and audio soundtrack that were such a pleasant surprise back in January are no longer a surprise to me and I envy those who have yet to witness this extraordinary feature.

'Kingsman: The Secret Service' gets 4 stars!

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