Kingsman: The Secret Service is a movie composed entirely of all the silly elements spy movies ditched when they made the shift to dark and gritty™. That theme encapsulates the entire movie, except for maybe the part where Samuel L. Jackson is playing an evil version of Russell Simmons. If you’ve been nostalgic for the old Bond, who’d shoot people with amnesia darts and nerve toxins and make bad puns while fighting henchmen with silly weapons and knives for appendages, Kingsman is for you. It’s no feat of deep analysis to figure this out either, the script all but screams it at you, referencing James Bond by name (and Bourne, and Jack Ryan, and…) three or four times throughout the film.
For a lot of people, I suspect this will be everything they ever wanted from an action film. Maybe I’m the weird one for expecting… I dunno… more? Kingsman certainly gets the benefit of a few doubts, coming as it does from Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman, who made beautiful music together in Kick-Ass and X-Men: First Class. But in Kick-Ass, I thought I detected a whiff of satire. It was a celebration of the superhero movie, sure, but by taking all of the elements of a superhero movie to their extremes – more gore, more swearing, an underage creep-magnet heroine, Nic Cage – it seemed to strike at the core of what makes superheros perversely appealing in the first place. Kingsman is a smidge sillier and a degree more cartoonishly violent than your average Bond flick, but for the most part, the only recognizable difference is its self-awareness. If you’re going to keep referencing James Bond, it’s natural for us to expect you to say something about him, no? All Kingsman seems to have to say about Bond movies is “we like them!”
Kingsman is at is best when it’s going BIG, like during a sequence when it stages a symphony of exploding heads choreographed to music, a scene late in the film that’s so good it almost single-handedly redeems everything else. But a lot of the time, it just doesn’t go far enough. At one point, Colin Firth and Samuel L. Jackson are engaged in a winky conversation about Bond movies, during which Firth says, “For me, the early Bond movies lived and died with the villain.”
It’s a statement that’s true, and clever enough, but seems strange in the context of Kingsman, where the Bondesque villain we’re measuring it against is… um… Evil Russell Simmons. Huh? I could understand if they’d had this conversation in a film where the bad guy was an over-the-top evil psycho with laser eyes and a 12-gauge penis, but instead he’s just kind of believable. A parody of an unrelated hip hop mogul, complete with lisp (who, don’t get me wrong, is absolutely ripe for parody). We could argue parody and pastiche and post-modernism until James Franco releases his next Dicknose video, but I think an even more basic lesson here is, don’t point over the center field wall if you’re just going to leg out a single.
Kingsman manages to be simultaneously mildly enjoyable and mildly disappointing. There’s so much more promise than it delivers on. For one thing, where’s the sex? They’re supposedly playing with a genre defined by characters named Pussy Galore and Dr. Molly Warmflash, yet the movie has just one fleeting reference to sex (a Swedish princess’s comment about “doing it in the asshole,” which I did appreciate). If you’re going to try to out-Bond Bond, I expect a busty Belorussian missile scientist going reverse cowgirl on the wing of an F-22. And if you’re not going to try to out-Bond Bond, maybe shut up about Bond?
One of Kingsman‘s defining moments comes midway through the film, when the hero, played by boyish handsome guy Taron Egerton, proudly steps to the bar at the proverbial climactic formal gala. “Martini,” he orders. “GIN, stirred 10 times, while you stare at a bottle of vermouth that you never open.”
On the one hand, I wanted to stand up and cheer. Damn right! The Bond franchise has been screwing over martini drinkers for years, popularizing a vastly inferior version of the drink. Vodka? Is he Russian? Is he wannabe Eurotrash? Is he a sorority girl? I thought he was supposed to be English*. So kudos to Kingsman for finally setting that one straight. At the same time, there really isn’t much to this film beyond F*CK YEAH GIN IN A MARTINI GODDAMN RIGHT.
Vince Mancini is a writer and comedian living in San Francisco. You can find more of his work on FilmDrunk, the Uproxx network, the Portland Mercury, the East Bay Express, and all over his mom’s refrigerator. Fan FilmDrunk on Facebook, find the latest movie reviews here.
*Yes, I know the Ian Fleming Bond was half Scottish and half Swiss, I’m talking about Sean Connery and Roger Moore here. Also, being half Swiss still wouldn’t excuse putting vodka in a martini.