KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE (2015, Matthew Vaughn)
For the first 15-20 minutes, KINGSMAN is electrifying — it moves at a blistering pace, but nevertheless each shot has an intricate choreography — the camera is constantly moving, but where characters live inside the frame is carefully composed and sometimes cheerfully amusing. And during all of this whiz-bang sorcery, there are some marked comments about Britain at large, introducing the film’s themes of how jolly old England is changing and what needs to happen to keep it alive. I thought I was watching vintage Guy Ritchie but with a brain, but then the Vaughn of KICK-ASS rears his head, and the film quickly slips back to mediocrity.
The bloated second act relies on drawn-out, predictable training sequences (while it’s cross-cutting with the fleshing out of its American villain), only coming back to life in the climactic action setpiece inside a mountain. This section is amped up to 11, furious and gleeful, but also unabashedly tasteless and vulgar. Vaughn wants to eat his cake and have it too, in a way, by promoting the gentlemanly charms of old England, decrying the American thirst for violence at every opportunity, only to serve up that violence on a silver platter, cashing in on every CGI burst of blood. (And for a movie with such a high body count, the violence here is so synthetic and computerized, none of it registers).
The jokes in the fringes — like a tabloid headline about Blur juxtaposed with one about seeing Brad Pitt in a sandwich — are cute, and certainly further the Britain-First, America-Last message, but so does the casting, which places the only two non-Aryan faces (a lisping Sam Jackson, giving it his all in full DJANGO villain mode, and Algerian actress Sofia Boutella) in the roles of the bad guys. Everyone else is squeaky clean, white, and properly English. That said, Colin Firth does an excellent job proving he would have made a terrific James Bond in an alternate universe where Bond could be self-aware, and it’s a pleasure to watch Firth so much as enjoy a pint of beer. Every time he’s on screen the movie pulses with life. Newcomer Taron Egerton is quite good as well. But I wish Vaughn had paid as much attention to the entire two hours as he did the beginning — it just feels like he storyboarded the shit out of the opening, then gave up and just let a lot of green screen and so-so dialogue do the work.