Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014)

Recently I reviewed Spy, lamenting that it didn't really know which direction it should go in.  My theory was that if it took itself just a bit more seriously and didn't go for the obvious jokes that it would be a much better movie.  Turns out that movie was already made and, sadly, it wasn't much better. 

Gary "Eggsy" Unwin (Taron Egerton) loses his father at an early age.  Turns out his father was a member of a secret British organization that was pledged to protect the United Kingdom. Codenamed Lancelot, he protected the rest of his group from being killed by a terrorist they had captured.  Harry Hart (Colin Firth), codenamed Galahad, leaves young Eggsy with his father's medal and a number to call if he ever gets in trouble.

20 years later Eggsy is in trouble, both with the law and with a local mobster that also happens to be his stepfather.  The Kingsman organization is also in trouble, with the recent Lancelot (Jack Davenport) murdered while investigating the disappearance of Professor Arnold (Mark Hamill), a leading researcher on climate change.  The professors sudden return comes as a surprise, and Hart begins to investigate what happened to Lancelot, which leads him to software kingpin Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson) and his bodyguard Gazelle (Sofia Boutella).  Hart becomes convinced that Valentine is up to something after Professor Arnold dies while trying to reveal why he disappeared.

Meanwhile, Eggsy contacts the number Hart left for him.  After a meeting with Hart leaves a pub full of Eggsy's attackers in a state of pain, he agrees to try out for the Kingsmen organization in order to become the new Lancelot.  The organizations head, Arthur (Michael Caine), has an immediate dislike for the lower class Eggsy, as he seemed to also have had with his father.  Despite that, Eggsy's determination gets him into the final running to become a Kingsman.

Meanwhile, Valentine's plan goes forward, as he contacts numerous world leaders to convince them to join his plan to rid the world of environmental threats, and kidnaps other world leaders if they do not comply.  He quickly learns that Hart is from the same organization as the agent that came for Professor Arnold, and sets up a demonstration of his plan in a bigoted church, using a subliminal signal to heighten violent tendencies. 

Eggsy, after washing out of the Kingsmen at the last minute, finds that he must join with their tech wizard Merlin (Mark Strong) and fellow new recruit Roxy (Sophie Cookson) to save the world from Valentine's plans and prove himself once and for all.

There is at first quite a bit to like in this movie.  Colin Firth is great as the mentor character, and Taron Egerton makes a decent hero.  The fight in the pub between Harry and a bunch of goons is well-done, and much of the training takes unexpected turns.  I can understand why a number of people liked this movie.

For me, everything comes to a screeching halt when the action begins.  I can't believe this is the same director as Kick-Ass.  In that movie this high-motion violence, even with CGI blood, worked.  Here it looks like a cartoon.  The massacre in the church is supposed to come off as shocking, but it is so amazingly fake looking that any tension it is supposed to build is destroyed.  Sadly, this and its outcome are major plot points, and it is completely ruined.  Even worse is the death of Lancelot at the hands of Gazelle, and a sequence of people's heads exploding.  Sure, the latter is supposedly played for somewhat of a comedic effect, but the actual effects are horrible.  In many cases we are talking CGI on the level the Scorpion King from The Mummy 2.

Since none of it looks real there is never any connection with what is going on.  Supposedly many of the actors are doing their own stunts, as well as stunt work by others, but it is lost in a cloud of digital blood and cartoonish nonsense.  To add to the annoyance, why did Samuel L. Jackson think that Valentine should have that lisp?  From what I read, that is something he added in, and typically Jackson knows better when it comes to characters he plays.  I guess he wanted to something unique, as if a mass murderer who couldn't stand the sight of blood and hated killing wasn't enough.  That was actually funny, while the lisp was just stupid.

I guess this did well enough to warrant a sequel, and it will be interesting to see if Egerton can carry the film without the help of Colin Firth or Michael Caine in the background.  If director Matthew Vaughn really wants to make this into a franchise, he should really go back and see what makes the best Bond films work, and go in that direction instead another overblown cartoon.

Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014)
Time: 129 minutes
Starring: Taron Egerton, Colin Firth, Samuel L. Jackson
Director: Matthew Vaughn


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