<i>Kingsman</i> Unnecessarily Takes Suave & Sophisticated into Vulgar, Offensive Territory

Christian Hamaker

DVD Release Date: June 9, 2015
Theatrical Release Date: February 13, 2015
Rating: R (for sequences of strong violence, language and some sexual content)
Genre: Action
Run Time: 129 min.
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Cast: Colin Firth, Taron Edgerton, Mark Strong, Sofia Boutella, Michael Caine, Sophie Cookson, Mark Hamill

The movie calendar follows a similar pattern each year. After an Oscar season of Very Serious Dramas followed by the usual January lull of studio castoffs, Presidents Day weekend often brings with it the hope of a promising film that can appeal to adults.

A potential new franchise starring Colin Firth—everyone's favorite Mr. Darcy—sounds like it could be just the ticket. An update on James Bond spy films, minus the outrageous, below-the-belt humor of the Austin Powers franchise, Kingsman: The Secret Service promises a debonair leading man squaring off against an over-the-top villain, in a strange hybrid of spy thriller, mentor story and zombie movie.

Kingsman: The Secret Service almost pulls it off, but after walking the line in terms of rough content, this R-rated movie takes an ugly turn from which it never recovers. Whether the filmmakers can build a franchise around the more effective elements here remains to be seen, but the film shows some potential both for future installments and for reaching a broader audience. The filmmakers simply need to separate what doesn't work in this film from what does, and build on it.

Harry Hart (Firth) is a part of a secret British (non-governmental) spy organization. Group members, including Merlin (Mark Strong, Green Lantern), dress in fine, bullet-proof suits while working to save the world.

The story begins in 1997 with the death of an agent during one of the group's missions. Hart, who takes responsibility for the fatality, speaks to the dead agent's young son, Eggsy, and gives him a pendant with a phone number that he can call if he's ever in a jam.

Years later, the boy, now a troubled young man (Taron Edgerton), dials the number and is soon met by Hart, who recruits him into the secret organization. The story becomes a mentor/mentee tale, as the older Hart schools Eggsy in the ways of the group while reining in Eggsy's impulsiveness, which hasn't served Eggsy well in life.

Unlike Eggsy, Hart is always in control of his emotions, even when taking on a group of thugs in a pub and dusting them off, one by one. With perfectly placed projectiles, the men are no match for Hart's precision in putting them down. By the end of the encounter, several men are laid out on the ground, while hardly a hair on Hart's head is out of place.

Kingsman is based on comics written by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons, and while I'm not familiar with the source material, some of the camera angles used in the film look as though they may have come straight from the comics. The camera movement itself is kinetic and the editing fast but not so furious that it's painful to watch. On the contrary, Kingsman exhibits unique promise during much of its first half.

Where the film goes astray is in its resolution of a scheme hatched by Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson, Captain America: The Winter Soldier), whose plans involve a form of mind control via SIM cards and cellphones. Valentine tests his technology on a Southern church that's been labeled a hate group, and a scene of congregants listening to a preacher spew venom toward blacks, Jews and other groups is uncomfortable to sit through. Not only is the language harsh, but the use of Southern churchgoers feels like the cheapest of cultural stereotypes. The film's condescension toward such people is only underlined when Hart goads a congregant with talk of his "boyfriend."

That line, which got a hearty laugh at a recent preview screening, leads to a melee in the church that represents a turning point for the film. Copious blood flows, and the violent, graphic nature of the film skyrockets. The story's focus soon shifts away from Hart and toward Valentine, but the drawn-out finale grows tedious. Like the Marvel franchise, Kingsman begins to feel bloated and excessive.

Rather than leaving us wanting more, Kingsman leaves us wondering why—and where—the film falters. It's also worth asking why a story with this comic-book plot is so laden with foul language that it carries an R rating, when, with a little more restraint from the screenwriters, it could have been toned down a bit for the broader PG-13 crowd.

Whether the filmmakers will have another shot with the Kingsman stories depends on turnout for this first chapter, but faith audiences might want to take a pass. Kingsman: The Secret Service has too much that's distasteful, even offensive, and not enough of the suave, sophisticated humor and character interplay that the early part of the film promises but fails to deliver. Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to find something else to watch this weekend.

CAUTIONS (may contain spoilers):

Publication date: February 12, 2015

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