Summary: When I look back at the most perceptive posts about America, most are film reviews. No surprise, Hollywood spends billions to make theaters into giant mirrors magnifying America. Sometimes accurately, sometimes as a funhouse distorted version. Both reveal much. As in Kingsman: the Secret Service (2014), which is a disturbing combination of both.
“We are past the point of no return, no matter what remedial actions we take.”
— The core belief of the bad guys in “Kingsman.” And of the Left and Right in the West today. This makes them all very dangerous to us.
Review of Kingsman: The Secret Service
If there was justice in the world, Kingsman would have grossed more on its first day than any of the Avengers films did in their full runs. It has everything. It’s a story about a society riven by inequality, and an organization seeking excellence that breaks its own traditions and offers an opportunity for social mobility to one of the underclass. It should inspire us.
Kingsman puts on screen what so many of us suspect we have in real life: treasonous leaders willing to sell us out for both personal gain and to further their ideology. 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.
Kingsman speaks to all of us. For people on the Left, it has people who realize that we’re killing the world and commit themselves to saving it. For people of the Right, it shows the makers of the world “going Galt“. For the rest of us, in Kingsman those two groups are the villains. Perhaps Kingsman marked an inflection point in our tolerance for the fringes (both of whom have turned against us), just as in 1984 Ghostbusters marked peak support for the regulatory state.
Kingsman also appeals to narrower tastes. Conspiracy nuts get a film about the world’s elites’ secret plan to destroy civilization and rebuild it to better meet their needs. For traditionalists, Kingsman shows a brave, skilled knight who rescues a princess – and the world. Kingsman further spices up these themes with gratuitous sex, violence, and profanity.
Technically, Kingsman is one of the best films that I have seen in years. It has the clearest fight scenes since The Matrix.
Some of the traitors in Kingsman.
Origin of the story
Kingsman is loosely based on the “Kingsman: The Secret Service” comics by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons (see Wikipedia). Tellingly, the film changed the organization from the conventional MI.6 to a small secret private group funded by wealthy Brits after WWI. We no longer trust the government to do good (i.e., see the corruption of SHIELD in The Winter Soldier), or even anything effectively. It seems more realistic to believe that effective change comes from the 1% (who own almost everything and have the ability to act decisively).
The critics’ speak
Some critics liked Kingsman as absurdist humor, as in Richard Roeper’s review at the Chicago Sun-Times. Its sex and violence offended him, unlike the sex and violence in films that he considers “art.”
“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. …This is the craziest movie I’ve seen in a long time. …Kingsman 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 scenes that play like a prologue to a porno reel. …a very violent but very silly movie.
Perhaps Roeper is wrong and we should take Kingsman seriously. Our elites are trying to destroy us. This has been a growing theme here, and will be a major theme next year.
Some reviews are inadvertently fun, such as this by Christopher Orr at The Atlantic.
“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.”
Much of British history consists of “well-appointed gentleman delivering a bloody beat down” as needed to keep the class (or colonial) game going.
Some of their comments are fascinating, 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 featured slaughter and crude humor – because these are elements of life. Bilge’s unabashed hatred of the public (aka “customers”) was ahead of the pack. They have grown more open about this, proudly so with Rise of Skywalker.
In the past, successful critics were successful because they shared our outlook. That is increasingly seldom so. The reviews show in embryonic form modern critics’ preference for abstraction over life, alienation over engagement (mockery is critics’ favorite perspective), and disdain for visions that challenge them (e.g., see their reaction to the Wachowski’s brilliant Speed Racer).
The best advice in a modern American film
Details about Cast and Crew
Kingsman was directed by Matthew Vaughn, directed Kingsman and co-wrote it with Jane Goldman. This team produced the superlative action-adventure – romance Stardust (2007). Both films had roughly the same production budget ($90 million), but Stardust grossed $137 million (losing money after marketing and distribution) and Kingsman grossed $414 million (a big hit). We want absurdist humor with double doses of sex, violence, and profanity. So that is what Hollywood manufactures.
In the lead roles are the experienced Colin Firth (as Harry Hart/Galahad) and Mark Strong (as Merlin), Michael Caine (as Arthur), and Samuel L. Jackson (as Valentine). The Kingsman recruits are Sophie Cookson and Taron Egerton (as Eggsy).
Kingsman: The Secret Service is available at Amazon.
For More Information
- A Fast & Furious Affair: My Strange Affection for This Very Strange Franchise.
- Our Burning Skull: The Dark, Brutal Ritual of Mad Max: Fury Road.
- “Rise of Skywalker” – I saw it so that you won’t have to.
- “Skywalker” is the “Transformers” for our time.
Trailers for Kingsman and the prequel
The first film (trailer below) was excellent fun. The sequel, The Golden Circle, was terrible. The prequel looks great!
Coming in February 2020: The King’s Man.