Summary: Today’s Sunday film review looks at Kingsman, a provocative mirror of today’s Anglo-American zeitgeist (and as such hated by critics as too disturbing). It’s worth a look.
“We are past the point of no return, no matter what remedial actions we take.”
— Core belief of the bad guys in Kingsman.
Review of Kingsman: the secret service
If there was justice in the world, Kingsman would have grossed more on its first day than Avengers did in its full run. It has everything. It’s a story about a society riven by inequality, and an organization seeking excellence that breaks tradition to offer an opportunity for social mobility to one of the underclass.
It puts on screen what we suspect we have in real life: treasonous leaders willing to sell us out for personal gain. It features logical villains, rather than the Hollywood staples of Lex Luthers who inexplicable turn to crime (rather than becoming billionaires by the fruit of their genius) and Jokers who just want to see the world burn.
For the Left, it has people who realize that we’re killing the world and commit themselves to saving it. For the Right, it shows the makers of the world “going Galt“. For the rest of us, both of these groups are the villains (perhaps marking an inflection point, as Ghostbusters in 1984 marked peak support for the EPA).
For traditionalists, it shows a brave skilled knight who rescues the world and a princess. Conspiracy nuts get a film about a secret plan of the world’s elites to reshape everything, realistically kept secret. Kingsman spices these themes with what we want: sex, violence, and profanity.
Technically, it’s one of the best I’ve seen in years, with the clearest fight scenes since the Matrix.
Origin of the story
Kingsman is loosely based on “The Secret Service” (2012) comic series by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons. Tellingly, the film changed the organization from the conventional MI.6 to a small secret private group funded by the wealthy. We no longer trust the government to do good (i.e., see the corruption of SHIELD in The Winter Soldier), and believe that effective change most likely comes from the 1% (who own almost everything).
Modern film critics tend to classify what they don’t understand as comedy, assuming it must be some form of meta satire, the easy alternative to thinking (“does it say something new to me?”).
Most critics disliked it, as in this robotic review by Richard Roeper at the Chicago Sun-Times. He’s offended by the sex and violence (unlike that in movies he considers “art”), with the obligatory feminist tagline. He gives it an “A” rating, presumably as comedy.
If the North Koreans hired an inspired and gutsy director, gave him tens of millions of dollars for a budget and could somehow persuade Academy Award winners Colin Firth and Michael Caine to headline the cast, they might have come up with something like “Kingsman: The Secret Service”… This is the craziest movie I’ve seen in a long time … “Kingsman: The Secret Service” never takes itself seriously, announcing itself as a hard-R parody from the get-go and keeping us in the joke throughout. On Day One of filming, they must have thrown away the moral compass and taken a group vow to splatter our sensibilities with stylish, gratuitous violence and one “Wait, what?!” moment after another.
… with a scene that plays like a prologue to a porno reel. … a very violent but very silly movie … Sophie Cookson does fine work as Roxy, a potential romantic interest for Eggsy. She should have been in more scenes.
Some reviewers lack knowledge of history, such as Christopher Orr at The Atlantic (“well-appointed gentleman delivering a bloody beat down” describes much of British history) …
It’s a winning joke: the tasteful, well-appointed gentleman delivering a bloody beat down … it’s an awfully tricky proposition to maintain this contradiction — extolling the virtue of good manners in the most ill-mannered way possible — for the length of an entire feature film.
Some of their comments are just odd, such as Bilge Ebiri at New York Magazine: “Kingsman is not a film for gentlemen. It’s for us, the great unwashed, bloodthirsty audience.” From Euripides and Aristophanes to Shakespeare, plays have feature slaughter and crude humor — because these are elements of life.
These reviews show our modern critics’ preference for abstraction over life, alienation over engagement (mockery as critics’ favorite perspective), and disdain for visions that challenge them (e.g., the Wachowski’s Speed Racer). Successful critics are successful because they share our outlook.
Details about Cast and Crew
Directed by Matthew Vaughn, whose oeuvre includes the superlative Stardust. Co-written by Jane Goldman.
In the lead roles are the experienced Colin Firth (Harry Hart/Galahad) and Mark Strong (Merlin), Michael Caine (Arthur), and Samuel L. Jackson (Valentine). The Kingsman recruits are Sophie Cookson and Taron Egerton (Eggsy).
Kingsman: The Secret Service is available at Amazon.
For More Information
See additional reviews in the comments. If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. You might enjoy other posts about Book and film reviews and Art, myth, and literature, especially these…
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The Cast of “Kingsman”
Other traitors in Kingsman
12 thoughts on “Kingsman: a mirror too disturbing for critics”
I loved Kingsmen and didn’t know it was slammed by critics. However, it could have come with a free trip to Paris and critics in the large papers and media would have run. The reason: Big O is a vilified. Considering their bosses’ politics the reviews are practically praise. Thanks for the review.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts on Kingsman!
Hated it. Exceeded my suspension of disbelief threshold by ten fold. Bad movie or worst action film ever? Hard to say.
I literally resolved in my seat to do better at checking the reviews before losing another half day watching this kind of dreck.
This post is a send up right?
Fiction is subjective, esp with regard to “suspension of disbelief.” I doubt you read many rape or incest fantasies (or raped by a were-wolf story) — but women’s erotic fiction sells unimaginable millions of copies per year. I doubt its readers care what you or I think of it.
I’m confident that E. L. James does not worry about your (or my) opinion about “50 Shades of Grey”.
In any case, I’m more interested in the content — characters, themes — than people’s reactions to it as fiction.
Before losing another half day–half a day!–how many times did you watch the thing?
Thought it rocked, both for reasons you mentioned above and sheer visceral delight–we expected absurdity via the nods to classic Bond, and were pleased as hell to discover “this isn’t that kind of movie.”
Only the final, crude scene “anal princess” scene disappointed–a juvenile indulgence by the film makers that should have been resisted, but let’s be honest: the throwaway character who dies in the first five minutes of the movie is a cooler, badder-assed spy that we’ve seen on the big screen in years, and it’s a treasure to watch Colin Firth, of all actors, go hardcore Tarantino on a hundred white supremacist mudder fletchers.
Oh, that’s a spoiler. Sorry.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. People’s opinion of the ending princess scene might depend on age.
Guys there’s a macro error in your article. Matt Vaughn directed X-Men: First Class, NOT Fantastic Four
Also First Class was amazing, Fantastic Four from 2005 was super lame
How can you mix those two up???
Great catch! Thanks.
I was thinking of the FF II, which he is producing — to be released this August.
The film was an endless parade of crude silliness, punctuated by moments too outlandish and far too gratuitiously violent to be believable — in short, a perfect representation of American society in 2015. The 1812 overture playing while all the traitorous leaders’ heads erupted in psychedelic mushroom clouds was just icing on the cake.
I think you are taking this too literally.
You could say the same about the Odyssey. “Outlandish!” “Over the top!” “Gratuitous vilolence!” Correct on all counts. Esp the slaughter of the Suitors at the end (it did not require bloodshed); it was considered too much even to the Greeks of the classical era (Odysseus had PTSD?) — hence the last chapter tacked on.
If you see the world’s leaders as traitors or oppressors, then the moment of retribution in Kingsman was cathartic. It is the same dynamic as audiences’ cheering when the aliens destroyed the White House in Independence Day.