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Feb 22 2015

Review: 'Kingsman' is a Toxic Stew of Tone Deaf Mayhem

Michael Chere with a question: When did it stop mattering if the hero saves the day?

Recently,it seems as long as the protagonist gives it the old college try that's good enough to get rounded up to a victory.If a few thousand innocents die before he gets the job done,eh,nobody's perfect.I started noticing this trend right around the timeMan of Steelhad to be careful to keep the piles of dead Metropolitans out of frame while Superman kissed Lois Lane on a pile of rubble.

Now we have Matthew Vaughn'sKingsman: The Secret Servicewhich ups the ante by not only having the hero fail to stop the villain from causing an outbreak of mass violence,but by lingering lovingly on the mayhem,including a mother who is brainwashed into attempting to murder her own baby.With previous examples of this trend,one could chalk it up to blockbuster inflation, with each movie trying to top its predecessors until the implications of all that destruction became unavoidable.WithKingsman,however,it feels like the showing of true colors,dropping the pretense that the film is about anything more than unashamedly reveling in a mass bloodletting.Vile stuff.

I realize I risk coming off as a prude and a scold by taking to task a film which wants only to be giddy escapist entertainment.[More...]

For what it's worth I fully believe there is damn near nothing you can't get away with in a comedy if you get the tone right.Two of the best comedies ever made are about horrible racism (Blazing Saddles) and nuclear holocaust (Dr.Strangelove).The difference being that those films had wit,a viewpoint,and a deep understanding of humanity.Kingsmanhas none of those things,nothing at all to say except maybe,"Boo,snobs"

But I'm getting ahead of myself.Vaughn'sKingsman: The Secret Serviceis about an English organization of gentlemen spies,a sort of James Bond Squad.  Indeed,with its roundtable of dapper English gents with their impeccable suits and gadgets right out of Q's lab,Kingsmansuggests a film assembled by collecting all the silliness the Bond films jettisoned when Daniel Craig took over,albeit crossed with the energy drink soullessness of theFast and the Furiousfranchise,and jazzed up with a hyper-kinetic style haphazardly ripped off from Edgar Wright.

When a member of theKingsmanis killed each agent is tasked to field a replacement candidate.The dapper Galahad,played enjoyably by Colin Firth,recruits Eggsy (Taron Egerton) the delinquent son of an agent who died saving Galahad's life,thus giving Eggsy a chance to straighten up and be the man he was meant to be,etc,etc...From there the story pretty much adheres to formula,as the green recruit is pressed into service against super villain mogul Richmond Valentine (a lisping Samuel L.Jackson,amusing himself mightily).The whole concept barely rises to the level of half-baked.It's the kind of script that thinks making meta-references to the films it is lazily recycling will excuse the fact that it is lazily recycling them.It doesn't.

Vaughn does his best to disguise the thinness of the material by cranking up the violence to goofy extremes,butKingsmanis torpedoed by a noxious,puerile attitude which cackles over every slow-motion severed artery and hacked limb like it is the apex of cleverness.Even the characters we are supposed to like are little more than wind-up violence machines with questionable values.One of the tests to become a Kingsman is to shoot an adorable puppy point-blank in the face to prove you are sufficiently cold.The film tries to weasel out of it by claiming they wouldn'treallyhurt a dog,but it's too late.Most of the film's heroes are people who pointed a gun at a puppy's face and pulled the trigger.Yay?

It's more proof that Vaughn,as withKick-Ass,is tone deaf when it comes to comedy.He is clearly aiming for that sweet spot that Matt Stone and Trey Parker hit so regularly where they get laughs both for being funny and for the outrageous extremes to which they are willing to go.But the material is so hollow there is no build,nothing to play off of. The film is left to trying to goad you with cartoonish displays of bad taste,

"What if we about blow up the head of a Barack Obama stand in?Does that get a rise out of you?No?How about if we have our hero butcher an entire church full of horrible Southern bigot caricatures set to the tune of Free Bird?Are you impressed that we went there?"

By the time the film ends with a bizarrely gratuitous anal sex joke that plays like the filmmakers remembered at the last minute that they meant to include something grossly sexist,the desperation ofKingsman'sbutton-pushing is painfully clear.

In the end,Kingsmanis saved from being outright offensive by being too slight to take seriously.I wouldn't judge anyone who enjoys it simply as a little tasteless fun.For me it left a rancid taste in my mouth.The climax ofKingsmaninvolves Sam Jackson puking directly into the camera.As I sat there having paid fifteen bucks to see this dreck,all I could think is,"I got what I deserved."


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Reader Comments (16)

Ugh.John WIck went on a 70+ man killing spree over the death of a dog who was the last gift of his wife.That's still way more likeable than any of the characters in this,even if you DON'T like John Wick.

February 22,2015 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

If I were to watch that scene of "shoot this puppy to become a Kingsman",I'd be squirming and wishing that John Wick would come in to bring horrible vengeance on these monsters.

February 22,2015 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

Interesting take since almost everything I have heard has been "What a blast!So fun!LOL!",but I didn't go see it because I don't like Matthew Vaughn and suspected I'd be more in line with this critique than those.

February 22,2015 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Dunks

Thank you!This movie was garbage and you wonderfully articulated why.

February 22,2015 | Unregistered CommenterBrianZ

Never pay in the double digits for something you have no idea if you'll enjoy it.

February 22,2015 | Unregistered Commenter3rtful

The trailer seemed intriguing but I will not pay to see a movie in which the "hero"kills a dog.

February 22,2015 | Unregistered CommenterJaragon

Why is it that "escapist entertainment"has gone from being associated with excessive idealism to being synonymous with excessive nihilism?What does that say about our fucked up impoverished dreams as a people?

No thanks.

February 22,2015 | Unregistered CommenterMikadzuki

Well,it's actually "total A".Flawless movie,best comic adaptation since - I don't know - the invention of cinema?
I loved it!:)

February 22,2015 | Unregistered CommenterSomeone

I hated the Kick-Ass films but I enjoyed this in the same sense as I enjoyed Wanted.That church massacre scene you speak of,which did go on about two minutes longer than it should have,wasn't anymore objectionable than say The Bride vs.The Crazy 88s scene.Inexcusable by itself but in context,works,as the POV is the villain's.

February 22,2015 | Unregistered CommenterSanty C.

Santy -

The church scene bothered me because of the cynical calculus it employed.Kingsman wants to enjoy 4 minutes of gratuitous violence,so it just has some characters run out and shout racial epithets so we can cheer when they are butchered in loving detail.It's pretty cheap.

Later when the same thing is being done to "innocent"people the camera is a mile away because it doesn't want to take responsibility for what its showing.

Also,I was distracted by the fact that the church scene was a inferior copy of the bathroom fight from Wright's The World's End and the final gag was a direct rip from Wright's Hot Fuzz.

February 22,2015 | Unregistered CommenterMichael C.

Thank you for this review.From the trailers I thought it would be action fun but by about half way I started thinking that it had turned into something quite nasty.It went beyond that.I found the long scene of heads exploding to the 1812 overture fireworks disturbing;especially knowing that there are people who think thats fun.

February 22,2015 | Unregistered CommenterVaus

Before the movie came out a friend of mine lent a copy of "Kick-Ass"which he raved about,I could only stomach about twenty pages and the look I gave him when he asked if I enjoyed it actually offended him.Since then the name Mark Millar and the self-satisfied witless,soulless,gratuitous violence with its "you-know-you-love-it"tone he peddles has repelled me like few things have.

February 22,2015 | Unregistered CommenterJJsDiner

Michael C: You're really stretching in the attempt to make that scene a copy of The World's End (a movie I really like,btw).Can't quite take Kick Ass,but I found this movie to be a diverting,enjoyable,winningly acted,and coherently edited action movie.Not great,but a good time.The horrible southern stereotypes in the church (your words) are clearly supposed to be like the Westboro Baptist church members and I can't imagine anyone feeling offended by portraying them as the stereotypes they so clearly are.Also purposefully misleading in your review is the dog killing section.Not only are dogs kept fully unharmed in the film,but in context and considering the lead's decision it doesn't seem quite as ridiculous/horrid a segment as you describe.You come off quite unpleasantly in this review.Not so much in your actual grade,which is fine if a bit harsh,but in your prudish scolding tone.At least you admitted the risk.

February 22,2015 | Unregistered CommenterDrewB

Drew -

I get how you feel that way,and as I say,I wouldn't fault anyone who enjoyed the film as you describe it,as a bit of slick fun.I tried to enjoy myself but I found it loathsome,increasingly so as the film wore on.It really got under my skin and I was trying to reflect that,even though I was aware how I would come off.

As for the church scene,I'm not bothered that they are southern racist caricatures (well,not ONLY bothered by that) but by the fact that they were cheap,broad stereotypes trotted out so the movie could indulge in a rampage of violence.The calculation is insulting "let's just have the characters shout the N-word for a minute.Then then the audience will cheer when they are dismembered at great length."

I wasn't trying to mislead about the dog scene.I was trying to avoid flat out spoiling the twists.But my point stands.Firth's character aimed a gun he thought to be loaded at a puppy and fired,no?Same with the other recruit who is strategically kept off screen?That's the point of the exercise regardless if they back pedal after the fact.

As for the World's End thing I think I worded that unclearly.I didn't mean to allege it was deliberate plagiarism,as much as it's an inferior version of the same stylistic idea.I don't know if Vaughn has seen any of Wright's film,although I wouldn't be surprised to learn he has.The Hot Fuzz gag certainly feels like a direct rip.

February 23,2015 | Registered CommenterMichael C.

just watched this movie as a first date with my crush.She doesn't like to watch movie at the cinemas,but I kinda forced her to do it,and she unexpectedly like the movie.Well at least I got a potential girlfriend out of this.

March 9,2015 | Unregistered Commenterfadhil

The "puppy"scene was a training tactic they used for S.S.training.I have researched the Holocaust for most of my life,so when they handed him a puppy I told my girl what would happen at the end of the sequence.Of course,the S.S.actually went through it.They could show no hesitation to orders,but they didn't use guns.They were forced to use their bare hands.So,it was off putting to me to show this in a normal action movie.Normal,as in no substance with a wacky villian.I know that most scenes are ideas from other sources,but damn don't show British Knights being forced to perform Nazi training tactics.Should have made Sam Jackson involved with that scene,if it HAD to be there.

"Shoot that M&*herFu%$#ng puppy in the M&*herFu%$#ng face!"

June 3,2015 | Unregistered CommenterFerdinand

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