Kingsman: The Secret Service

Art & Culture

Are you a fan of comic book violence? Does the idea of climate change make you fall about laughing? Do you think that Kick Ass would have been better if there had been more killing? Do you believe that the working class are stupid, violent and nasty? Would you send your children to an exclusive school if you could afford the fees? Answer yes to all (or most) of the questions above, and you're in for a whale of a time at Matthew Vaughan's new film.

I know the riposte that Mr Vaughan would make if accused of snobbery, racism, sexism, and a profoundly conservative view of life. He would doubtless say that it's only a bit of fun, and I (and all other critics) should get a life. 

I, on the other hand, would point out that his films are dedicated to the proposition that taking a life (or several hundred lives) is the be all and end all of film making. There are at least three scenes in Kingsman which can be regarded as nothing less than a celebration of mass extermination – complete with cool soundtrack. Alex the Droog in Clockwork Orangewould have a field day watching this film. This is ultra violence with a vengeance. To what purpose, I'm at a loss to say. I suppose if you can have art for art's sake, you can have violence for violence's sake.

Drawing heavily on Men In Black, with a heavy-handed nod (mixed metaphor apology) in the direction of James Bond, this touts itself as a post modern and modern day version of the Knights of the Round Table. Colin Firth (looking like Michael Caine as Harry Palmer) is Harry Hart, known as Galahad within this secret society, dedicated to saving the world from – well, from whoever they decide the world needs saving from. In this case it's Richmond Valentine (Samuel L Jackson), a multi billionaire committed to saving the planet, whose sidekick and Oddjob-like henchwoman has blades for legs.

Valentine has an especially preposterous plot, which involves giving everyone free mobile phone and internet access, and He Has To Be Stopped. Meanwhile, since a dead Kingsman (aka Lancelot) has been knocked off, the gang has to find a new recruit. Harry chooses Eggsy, a tough street kid, whose family makes the lot in Shameless look genteel and sophisticated. Playing Tommy Lee Jones to Eggsy's Will Smith, Harry puts the lad through an intense training course designed to weed out the weakest. This is masterminded by Merlin (Mark Strong) who has an implausible and superfluous Scottish accent.

The Arthur at the not very round table is none other than Michael Caine, who has very little to do apart from sit down and impersonate Michael Caine. It's true that he is less good at this than Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, but I guess they weren't available.

I don't know if I've done enough to put you off going – so I'll carry on a little longer just in case. This is a film with no discernible point apart from killing people, by slicing, stabbing, shooting, explosion or any other means that comes to hand. This reaches an especially hideous apotheosis when Colin Firth (under the influence of a drug, and with the backing of Lynyrd Skynyrd) slaughters the entire congregation of a church – in slow motion. Try telling me that's not meant to thrill the audience.

The female characters consist of the woman who slices men's arms off with her bladerunner feet, a girl who gets jettisoned into space to keep her out the way, and a princess in a dungeon whose only role is to offer Eggsy a shag at the end as reward for being male. All that, and a completely deliberate decision to have Obama as an exploding head, which in the context of Firth's character saying he saved Margaret Thatcher's life, seems pretty Daily Telegraph to me.

After a string of flops, this may be seen by some as a return to commercial success for Colin Firth. I see it as a betrayal of what I once thought was his talent. I like to think he took the role out of desperation rather than enthusiasm. I could go on. I won't.

Actually, I will. Alan Bennett coined the expression "Snobbery with violence." It should be the name of this film.


Phil Raby

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