KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE is the ultimate fractured fairy tale: A “tour de force” turned “turd de force.” And if you’re recoiling at that turn of phrase- just wait until you get to “the end” of the movie. What begins as a witty, exciting, and inventive update on the iconic James Bond gentleman spy thriller, descends into a crude gore fest that left me cringing in my seat. Keep in mind that English producer/director Matthew Vaughan’s cinematic pedigree includes the movie KICK-ASS. His latest R-rated super-hero fantasy KINGSMAN is a hit with critics and the public and is expected to take in over 100 million dollars at the box office over the next few days.
KINGSMAN stars Colin Firth as a most unlikely superhero– an impeccably tailored and coiffed gent with an umbrella, a chap you might spy having high tea at Claridges. But beneath the surface, he is one of a band of secret agents and hyper-groomed guardians of the international order, a KINGSMAN: a modern day knight for whom a suit of armor is, well, a suit. Thus attired, he wafts through the world in disguise–but thugs, take notice; his manners are part of his arsenal, and that harmless-looking bumbershoot does everything but mix a martini. The Kingsman martini by the way, one ups that of Mr. Bond–it’s not only NOT shaken, but includes merely a “glance at an unopened bottle of vermouth.” Priceless.
The opening action set piece is a hyperkinetic display of delightfully impossible physical prowess and involves a Kingsman named Lancelot who dispatches a room full of villains with nary a hair out of place. The scene culminates in one of the most diabolically devilish demises ever filmed and involves the blade skills of a villainess even more adept at manipulating her prostheses than Oscar Pistorius.
The aforementioned Lancelot, sadly, must be replaced. Thus, Colin Firth as Kingsman Galahad seeks out a streetwise kid (Taron Egerton) who goes by the name of “Eggsy.” After another hilariously inspired round of bad guy-bashing at a local pub, he convinces Eggsy that he has the brains and raw skills to become a KINGSMAN. Let the training commence.
Enter the arch villain whose mad tech skills will allow him to control the world through the use of satellites and sim cards. Samuel L. Jackson plays it with eery evil aplomb, and his signature quirky accoutrement isn’t a pussy cat; it’s an absurd whistling lisp every time he “thspeaks.” The movie hits m0st of its satirical marks, catapulting the original James Bond spy thriller tropes to 11– the filmmaker’s stated goal.
Then suddenly and without warning– it all goes horribly awry and the film’s tone and comic aim plummet to minus 12, making it a less than zero sum game for me. About two thirds of the way through, the violence goes from inventive bloodless hi-jinks, to the tasteless high tech lo-jinks of a sick video game massacre in a church. I’m talking vividly colored exploding heads a la Cronenberg’s “SCANNERS.” I’m talking impalements, gouging, burning, slashing, axing, children and animals being terrorized and threatened– leaving this viewer grossed out and despirited. Without wanting to spoil the fun, I must tell you that the filmmakers have already done that.
By the very end, some of the heroes are compromised and the last scenes involve the villain vomiting straight into camera and our faces. Then the new Lancelot rescues the imprisoned blonde Princess Tilde– after she promises to have anal sex with him, which she bluntly describes thus: “We can do it in the asshole.” This is eventually followed by a single wide close-up of her readied posterior. Here is director Matthew Vaughan’s response to the complaints from “some bloody feminists”:
“If you’ve noticed, this is my Spinal Tap of trying to find 11 with every scene,” Vaughn told EW. “What happened there was I studied all the old movies, especially the Bond ones. At the end of Moonraker, he’s floating around in space on Dr. Goodhead, and they say, ‘Bond is attempting re-entry.'”
I get that Vaughan and his co-writers were looking to push and upend the genre–literally, but it appears they are stuck at toilet training and have ultimately aimed their parody at similarly challenged prepubescent boys. The coarseness of the later action and the gags has dulled the humor, is inconsistent with the rest of the film’s tone, and for the record, that last joke in its original incarnation was among the least funny of the Bond oeuvre. I vote for a new ending– one that doesn’t leave me staring at the wrong end of a damsel in distress.