Starring Colin Firth, Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Caine
In cinemas now
Matthew Vaughn’s explosive spy-fest proves to be audacious and entertaining while featuring some missteps that leave a nasty taste in the mouth.
Never quite sure whether it’s intended for a broad cineplex audience or just the male readers of lads’ mags, Kingsman is never boring but revels in its ultra-violence. It’s amazing what you get away with in a 15-certificate movie nowadays – extreme gunplay, exploding heads and (most worryingly) a barely disguised thread of misogyny. For every Hunger Games where we get an empowered female lead there’s a Kingsman where the female roles are essentially skank mother, horny Scandinavian princess and secret agent, except in the latter’s case she gets little to do to prove her worth.
Don’t get me wrong, the real source material here is Ian Fleming (in turn, translated into the movie’s actual reference, the eponymous graphic novel by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons) and his 007 was as sexist and sadistic as any self-respecting spy in the 1950s, but this is just too on the nose, and it stinks.
This takes nothing away from some bravura set-pieces – the flooding of a dormitory and a massacre in a church (technically amazing) – but Samuel L Jackson’s meta megalomaniac is more Austin Powers’ Dr Evil than SPECTRE’s feline-loving leader. And why give Mark Strong that awful Scottish accent? What was the point?
And that’s how you travel along the path of the movie, ranging from wide-eyed amazement to barely-concealed contempt. It’s really well made, but its craft is often squandered in the name of a cheap gag. If E4 had a load of cash and wanted to make a spy movie it would look a lot like this; and that cheapens the involvement of Colin Firth as the old school Harry Palmer lookalike who takes in the lost wrong ‘un and does an Eliza Dolittle on him (Pygmalion, not the pop star).
Vaughn’s Kick-Ass was a far superior movie and better captures the anarchic intensity of its comic-book roots. Here it just feels like you’re watching some drunk teenagers. They think they’re hilarious, while those around them think otherwise. James Bond, John Drake, Simon Templar… even Derek Flint, they all maintained a sense of dignity in their worst endeavours. These guys, in their smart suits and with their blokey charm are just too one-note and shallow. They perform amazing stunts and hack their way through swathes of baddies, but you’d never want to spend any length of time with them.
Verdict: Disposable weekend fodder that delivers plenty of bang for its buck, but ultimately is a violent mess that confuses sadism with humour. Like a two-hour joke with a dodgy punchline: funny while you’re in the moment, but loses all charm the second you stop to reflect. 5/10.