“Kingsman: The Secret Service” kills with thrills and blood spills
What immortal hands or eyes can keep framing James Bond’s famous fearful symmetry? Bond, after all, has nearly become a genre in himself, from his offshoots in Jason Bourne from the Bourne films and Jack Bauer in the television series “24” (2001), making it more difficult to innovate within this iconic genre. Matthew Vaughn, the director of “Kick-Ass”(2010) and “X-Men: First Class” (2011) brings a new and youthful exuberance to the dated spy framework with his “Kingsman: The Secret Service” (2014) and dusts the cobwebs off Bond’s aged suit.
The film centers around Harry Hart (Colin Firth), a posh member of the eponymous British spy organization the Kingsmen, who enlists the thuggish and tempermental underdog Gary “Eggsy” Unwin (Taron Egerton) as his entry for the Goblet of Fire-esque competition for the chance to fill the open seat at the Kingsmen’s round table. Meanwhile, the two must thwart the plans of internet mogul Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson) to control the globe’s population by distributing his free WiFi implants that can turn users from websurfing zombies and into homicidal maniacs.
As Hart himself says, “I always felt that the old Bond films were as good as the villain.” Ever since “Pulp Fiction” (1994), Samuel L. Jackson has been canonized as the pithy and debonair sidekick, so this prototypic role fits poorly within the classic villain mold. Valentine, the Steve Jobs turned global crusader, lacks the wicked core of classic Bond villains like Auric Goldfinger (Gert Frobe) in “Goldfinger” (1964). His slasher sidekick Gazelle (Sofia Boutella) brings the razor sharp, cutthroat edginess, but Valentine is too dulled by his “Dr. Evil” ineptitude to be a strong villain.
“Kingsman” is part of a new wave of postmodern action films, including “Guardians of the Galaxy” (2014) and “Seven Psychopaths” (2012) that use self-reflectiveness and subversive humor to mock their predecessors in a harmless “wink-wink-nudge-nudge” style. It takes the Bond martini, shakes it in an affectionate tribute, then stirs it, adds some lemon zest and sets the whole thing on fire. Vaughn has clearly seen too many spy films for his own good, but he gives them a transfusion of modern relevance with parodic excesses, like a Swedish princess asking for anal sex and enough wide-eyed puppies for even the most caninephilic viewer.
Some may find fault with the grotesque and hedonistic violence, but director Quentin Tarantino made “Kill Bill” (2003) and “Django Unchained” (2012), and critics lauded both of those. So sit back, be exploited and enjoy the firework display of exploding heads and the dense, skeletal crack of knocked-out teeth. Brawls are ballet, as Firth pirouettes through a Kentucky church, pulping the congregation like a spiffy, spectacled tornado. The camera revels in a crucifix-wielding Firth, who’s come a long way from stuttering King George VI in “The King’s Speech” (2010) or sensual Johannes Vermeer in “Girl with the Pearl Earring” (2003). The incongruency of a gallant Firth impaling a churchgoer with a cross has been well calculated for comedic punch. Vaughn has a love affair with murder, holding shots of stabbed and sliced skulls like kisses from death.
Although it quietly reinforces conservative stereotypes in the end, including the eradication of the only black character and reinstatement of traditional heterosexual relationships — away from the homoerotic tensions between Eggsy and Harry — the liberal and unabashed bloodbath washes away any need for messages. This is atavistic, visceral filmmaking that goes for your gut while trying to bust it. Vaughn loves his film to the point of fetish, delighting in his Candyland of one-liners, full circles and body counting, and we share that amusement. So grab your popcorn and soda, or perhaps some tea, slip into your pajamas or smoking jacket and experience the fun of a filmmaker having the time of his life.
“Kingsman: The Secret Service” played at Spaulding last Friday at 7 P.M.