Monday, May 11, 2015

Catching Up: Kingsman: The Secret Service

In going to see Kingsman: The Secret Service I'd hoped it would be a fun, poppy palate cleanser to top off a morning spent at the movie theater watching Fifty Shades of Grey.  Indeed, the film is poppy - often sporting unreasonably bright colors and an aesthetic that feels more appropriate for an old school comic book or line of toy cars than an R-rated actioner - but somehow manages to be too much so.  The lines between the heroes and the villains seem arbitrarily drawn, the pop cultural references feel expected and slight, the action sequences aim for humor but frequently succumb to sadism, and by the end of the film it feels like the stakes have been a bad joke all along.  It's an exercise in Anglophilia that, weirdly, seems minimally in touch with British humor.  Subtlety is something Kingsman just doesn't understand, and which it desperately, desperately needs.  Everything is dialed up to such a pitch that it feels like a long, pummeling line that offers fight after fight in the name of instant gratification, thereby prolonging nothing and making the entirety of the film feel like an arduous, exhausting chore.

While it references James Bond, The Avengers, and the Bourne films left and right, it's more of a testosterone-driven version of something like, well, St. Trinian's: loud, bawdy, silly, and gifted with the unlikely presence of a spate of otherwise excellent actors sent to distract from and babysit teenage hooligans.  Here the scene stealer is Colin Firth as Galahad, a seasoned spy who recruits young "Eggsy" (Taron Egerton) to ascend from the working class and train to join a secret, world-saving operation.  While the premise is one with promise, the film lost me primarily in its handling of the action sequences.  To call them stylistically heavy handed is an understatement, and there's such an absurd level of physicality to them that they near slapstick.  In other words; they're not graceful, they're not subtle, they read as both overly choreographed and under-considered. The goal each time is a maximum body count in a minimal number of frames, and the problem with that is we see it repeated over and over and over again.

With the exception of a truly brutal massacre in a Southern church, Kingsman fails to balance the possible wit of its components against a type of lead-footed bloodlust.  Director Matthew Vaughn (of Kick-Ass, of course) tries to pack absolutely everything into an overly extended run time and winds up pummeling the viewer until the set-pieces just aren't interesting anymore.  With some clever editing, this is a work easily salvaged. Unfortunately, in its current cut it's an obnoxious, mildly entertaining bit of brutality.

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