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Review: 'Kingsman: The Secret Service' is for teenage boys

Colin Firth dutifully turns in The Colin Firth Performance as the star member of elite agents in this outsized English spy romp.

'Kingsman: The Secret Service’
Director:
Matthew Vaughn
Stars: Taron Egerton, Colin Firth
Rating: R
3 (out of 5) Globes

Matthew Vaughn’s veddy English spy romp “Kingsman” is like a brighter, cheekier Frank Miller: an equal opportunity offender that lobs countless cultural grenades — not because it’s angry, as the terminally frothing Miller is, but just because it felt like it. It’s the cat perched next to the spilled milk. The far right will love that it lampoons Islamic terrorists, global warming and Obama but will lose their heads when the film’s splashiest set piece takes place in a homophobic, racist, anti-Semitic Deep South church. Conservative Britishers, meanwhile, will be in thrall to its sordid portrayal of the nation’s lower class — only to watch as it refines its message into a confused mush about the power of same. Trying to put a finger on what it’s saying is pointless; it simply wants to upset everything and everyone, just for kicks.

Based on the limited release comic “The Secret Service,” “Kingsman” posits a British agency even more secretive, elite and capable than the illustrious MI6. It's not clear exactly what they do, and there only appears to be three Kingsmen. Still, they have an apparentposter child in one Harry Hart (Colin Firth, performing his own national service by dutifully filing The Colin Firth Performance, but with more assault weapons). He’s an immaculately tailored gentleman with aggressively British gadgets (e.g., a bulletproof umbrella) who knows not to waste fine Scotch while gunning baddies. Looking to replace a fallen member, he recruits Eggsy (personable newcomer Taron Egerton), the son of another killed agent, who may be too much of a chav to become completely refined. Meanwhile, things kick up a notch thanks to the unlikely villain: Samuel L. Jackson as a lisping entrepreneur with Bill Gates’ money and Russell Simmon’s wardrobe, who has a devious plan for countering climate change.

For what it’s worth, “Kingsman” isn’t a climate change denier; in a rare fit of delicacy in an otherwise cheerfully over-the-top entertainment, it simply knocks those who would exploit the subject for nefarious purposes. Usually it aims to be both smooth like Firth and recklessly outsized like the splashiest of American blockbusters. Not only was “Kingsman” directed by “Kick-Ass”’ Matthew Vaughn; it’s adapted from a comic by “Kick-Ass” creator Mark Millar. Both properties share a love for cartoonish violence and gore; this one boasts a henchwoman (Sofia Boutella) with razor sharp blades for legs. (Whether this is a joke about Olympian/alleged murderer Oscar Pistorius is unclear, but “Kingsman” is the kind of film that would make it.) And like “Kick-Ass,” it’s all building to a high body-count climax, albeit one that gets resolved in a fashion that’s beautiful in a more traditionally pretty way.

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Is “Kingsman” parodying old school Bond or reasserting the franchise’s classist, Old Britannia leanings? It winds up doing both, with Eggsy someone who needs to be remodeled into a proper (fighting) Englishman, but whose rough tendencies also wind up saving the day. (Michael Caine, who has said England's young should comply to mandatory military service, is on hand as the Kingsman's maybe dodgy boss.) Even the Bond series has (briefly) criticized this worldview, complicating the franchise’s subtext about defending the British Empire from the poor and/or foreign. Truth is “Kingsman” just doesn’t care. It’s a goof, a lark, a bit of silliness that filters bombastic American junk through an English sieve — blending dry wit and reticence into a mélange of blockbuster explosions and cool killings. It’s an alternate universe Bond movie that arrives in an age when the series has gone dark and realistic, offering one that’s pure, trashy spectacle, with R-rated violence and a complete lack of tact. It’s a movie for teenage boys if there ever was one, which is to say it’s also powerfully sexless, right up to an ending that would titillate only a 14-year-old.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge
 
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