Host of of the Geeks with Wives and Capes Podcast, Will Elizondo, already did his review of this movie when it released in theaters earlier this year. Now I’m back with a second opinion. Eight months later. This joyful romp of a spy movie showed up in streaming channels early in the summer, and I’d decided it was time to catch it, as I’d missed its theatrical release. I personally grabbed it via XBox Live Video, downloaded it and watched it on my Toshiba Portege Z10t.
The fictitious setup for Kingsman is perfect. It is one of those nerd-genre pitches that I often say writes itself. Once you have the concept for film, you just need to not screw it up. Geeks will eat this stuff up. The premise is that, at some point in history, tailors served the most powerful men in the world. When those men lost a generation of heirs over the course of World War I and later WWII, they decided that there was a better way to use their money and influence. Specifically, they used it to fund a private intelligence organization, networked through a chain of tailor shops and haberdasheries, and unfettered by the constraints of government oversight. The Kingsmen, which I am guessing number around 12, in keeping with the Arthurian legends, are named after the Knights of the Round Table. The head of the agency is code-named Arthur, their version of Q is code-named Merlyn, and so forth. Colin Firth plays Galahad, who recruited a young man to be a Kingsman agent who and then sacrificed himself to save his team during an op in Afghanistan. Firth’s Galahad then gives a medal to that agent’s son with a contact number on the back. As co-star Taron Egerton grows to youthful manhood and winds up quite a scalawag, he eventually calls the number and his entry into the realm of the Kingsman begins.
There are touches of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen in here, a lot of James Bond, the Man from UNCLE, and many other spy movies. I love the cast. Firth, Michael Cain, Mark Hamill, Samuel L. Jackson…a great mix of actors that would normally firmly place this on any geek’s must-watch list. The breakout performance for me was Mark Strong as Merlyn. Strong typically appears as a villain and always does that well. But I was very pleased with his casting as a good guy who winds up getting a lot of screen-time, and with what he did with the role. And Samuel L brings it, as always.
Visually, the film is pretty well packaged. The weapons, suits, villainous henchmen (hench-lady in this case), are all spectacular designs of film devices that make this movie better than the average Saturday afternoon fare. Jackson’s right-hand lady is named Gazelle, and is a leg amputee. But her prosthetic legs give her amazing speed and have spring-loaded blades that can be pushed out through gaps in the feet of the prosthetics and used as deadly weapons.
Now, the film is directed by Matthew Vaughn, who also directed X-Men: First Class, and, most relevantly, Kick-Ass. And the action in the film is shot in a hyper-stylized manner that is more akin to The Matrix or a super-hero flick than a realistic spy movie. The violence of the fight scenes is cranked way up to ultra, and is especially gratuitous. And here is where I get a major turn-off to the film. The action scenes are over the top to the point where the movie becomes too much of a parody. It would have played great as a serious spy caper, but the action scenes degenerate it to being a spoof. Maybe this is the route they had to go because Firth is not really an action star? I’m not sure. I can only say that the fights always went to a point where I felt like they were just dumb.
And that bad taste in my mouth is unfortunately what is sticking with me the morning after my viewing. As I get more distance from the final scene, Kingsman: the Secret Service inches away from being a flick that I would recommend, or that I would tell someone they need to watch. As many problems as it had, I feel like The Man from U.N.C.L.E. was a better spy movie. I am sure that will not be a popular opinion. But there it is. See you next time for another in-streaming review. I’m out.