At The Movies: Kingsman: The Secret Service

Finally managed a deferred date night to go see Kingsman:The Secret Service (Note to future self: do not attempt to get into a movie theater on Valentine’s Day ever again, you will fail miserably). My thoughts follow, but first, trailers!

FANT4STIC (sic) – This actually looks less appealing than the trashy series being rebooted. Those movies were dumb, but at least sort of fun in places. The new movie still looks dumb, but also appears to have been shot through a dirty gym sock in an effort to make it ‘dark’ and ‘brooding’. Because what the world is clamoring for is a gritty reboot about a team that once replaced the Human Torch with a robot vacuum cleaner named HERBIE.

Agent 47 – If you want me to go see your movie, it’s probably a bad idea to produce a trailer that makes me think of Babylon A.D.

UnfriendedI Know What You Posted Last Summer

Insidious III – A threequel to a movie I’ve never heard of. Appears to start as a Rear Window homage, then devolve into a supernatural horror flick full of cheap jump scares. Still looked scarier than Unfriended.

Ted 2 – Foul-talking living teddy bear must prove he’s legally human in a court of law in order to be allowed access to reproductive technology. Meanwhile, continues to act like a dick.

Ant-Man – This is the second time I’ve seen this trailer and it still evokes a resounding ‘meh’. With few exceptions, I’ve been very impressed with the MCU films to date and would love to see this add something to the Avengers mythos, but this just doesn’t look that good. I’m also (like all Marvel fans of a certain age) disappointed that they aren’t going with Hank Pym as the title character. Good reviews and word of mouth would get me in the theater for this after the first couple weeks, otherwise it can wait for streaming.

This was not the best or most enticing set of trailers I’ve seen lately, but at least they beat the preceding commercials for, amongst other inanities, canker sore medicine.

And now for our feature presentation…

“Manners. Maketh. Man.”

It’s hard to find exactly what to say about Kingsman, as it is definitely the sort of film you should see spoiler-free, and to say much starts to give away the plot twists that come fast and thick from even the first minutes of the movie. Oh, there are a few you’ll likely see coming a mile away, but for each of those there will be two or three moments that genuinely shock. It’s dark. It’s violent. And it’s very, very, funny.

Kingsman is an extra-governmental spy cabal dedicated to preserving world peace in the decades following the horrors of WWI. Acting almost as a shadow government, they quietly intervene to defuse plots that would destabilize the world. Eggsy (Taron Egerton) is a young man from the wrong side of the tracks who has been brought aboard as a potential recruit by ‘Galahad’ (Colin Firth). All field agents of the underground group take their names from Arthurian legend and while their armor may be the bespoke Saville Row suit, they nevertheless see themselves as modern-day knights, going forth into the world to protect the innocent.

To give away much beyond the basic setup is to do a disservice to those who haven’t yet seen the film. I will say that it uses one of the most clever plot devices I’ve seen to subtly show the passage of time during recruit training, instead of giving us the standard montage that so often leaves you with the sense that your protagonist has gone from zero to hero in something under a week. They also give us one crude gag that falls flat on its face after continuing past bad taste to the point it stops being funny and just gets uncomfortable. Unfortunately, it comes near enough to the end that it left a bit of a bad taste in my mouth about a film that, up until that point, I’d had nothing but good will for, no matter how over the top.

Kingsman is a James Bond pastiche/satire that is also an excellent spy thriller in its own right. The humor, wit, and style on display here have been missing from the real Bond films for years. Just be forewarned, this is not a film for the faint of heart or the easily offended. Much of the humor and language are crude and the violence, though oddly bloodless and cartoon-like, is the most extreme I’ve seen in a mainstream film.

*here there be deep and turbulent BS, hip waders advised*

One comment I’ve seen bruited about quite a bit is that Kingsman is a film with a decided libertarian worldview. I’m perhaps not entirely convinced. Certainly the plan that must be thwarted can only be carried out by co-opting any number of world political leaders to commit a heinous crime in the name of the ‘greater good’. But the idea that the Kingsman organization’s own little (self-selected) oligarchy is somehow inherently morally superior or better-intentioned than the (often duly elected) oligarchies that make up the governments of the larger world does not hold much water for me as a resounding defense of a free society.

Certainly, their motivation at their founding was a distrust of governments after WWI, and the belief that a group of private citizens could better police the world and prevent future wars than the politicians had done. But regardless of good intentions, they have little more regard than said politicians for the freedom of the individual; keeping people completely in the dark about the plots against them, deploying amnestics against bystanders to hide their actions, and (it is strongly implied) co-opting or killing anyone they fear may bring their activities to light. Though clearly operating on a smaller scale than that of the official governments, they are not blameless in regards to committing acts of aggression against the people that they consider under their protection.

That they were able to fund the Kingsman organization due to the extreme wealth of the founders, who wished to use their money to do good in the world while free of government interference, is certainly a change from the usual (hypocritical) Hollywood tactic of vilifying the rich. Yet the villain too is a wealthy capitalist, one clearly of the ‘crony’ variety, increasing his wealth and influence in part through favorable political maneuvering, so perhaps not a shining example of the power of the free market.

In the end, even the Kingsman oligarchy is unfit for purpose, when it is shown that their own members are not immune to accepting what Thomas Sowell refers to as “the vision of the anointed” whereby any sort of oppression can be justified by the benevolent intent of those in positions of power and influence who believe they know what is best for we ignorant masses. Perhaps the real point is that once too much power is concentrated into too few hands, no government, even an unofficial one, can be trusted not to act against the very people it is duty-bound to protect, in the service of a ‘higher purpose’. That, my friends, is a very libertarian message indeed.

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One thought on “At The Movies: Kingsman: The Secret Service

  1. Kingsman offers endless possibilities for exploring just what the writers or its characters are saying. Remember, Kingsmen members have to be willing dog murderers, but the group is politically enlightened enough to take women members. They want people that can think for themselves, but they must also strictly obey orders. I don’t think the writers or director of this film concern themselves with any implied political incorrectness, but just assume anything they think of as funny is acceptable fodder for their humor, and that all humor, no matter what it’s implications, is sanctioned under the license of satire. Personally, I don’t agree. I think the movie was often filled with subtext that is offensive to cutting edge liberal ideals.

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