Matthew Vaughn (X-Men: First Class, Kick-Ass) has expressed his frustration with the Dark Knight-ing of recent action films — that is the aping of its dark and brooding atmosphere for every other comic property. He’s got a point (Man of Steel was sorely missing the slapstick of Clark Kent), but his yearning to bring the fun back is hard when it’s not backed up with some smarts.
Based on the comic by Dave Gibbons and Mark Millar, it’s not so much a parody as an interpretation of the suave spy, and British to boot. Feeling guilt for the death of a fellow agent, Harry Hart (Colin Firth) eventually recruits his colleague’s wayward son, Eggsy (Taron Egerton) for the Kingsman, an independent British spy group born out of a 19th century tailor shop. It’s a quirky set up that is as much a wink at the buttoned up, English spy trope, as well as a genuine debt to the tradition. Soon Eggsy is not only enrolled in the wacky training program run by Merlin (Mark Strong), and overseen by the Kingsman’s leader Arthur (Michael Caine).
The biggest issue with the film is that it’s just so all over the place, both tonally and plotwise. It wants to be goofy — hence Samuel L. Jackson’s geeky supervillain lisp which is a touch too reminiscent of Mike Tyson — but it still wants to retain that sense of urgency and excitement needed for any great action flick. While the film starts off well enough and Firth carries the film well doing his best anti-Bond (more brains than brawn), the film has the problem that all of Vaughn’s films have, namely First Class and Kick-Ass: a lackluster script.
Just like First Class, Vaughn and writing partner Jane Goldman seem intent on cramming as much into Kingsman as possible. It’s not even necessarily that they cram too much in, as much as it is that they can’t reconcile the origin story of Eggsy with the mission at hand, which is to save the world from tech giant and environmentalist turned megalomaniac Richmond Valentine (Jackson). The parts just don’t fit together and once the film slowly passes the torch from Hart to Eggsy, it loses steam. A scene where Valentine causes Hart to become part of a mass orgy of killing in an ultra-religious church is also in very poor taste. It seems that while Vaughn and Goldman don’t condone the violence, they also want viewers to enjoy the violence, which they assume is OK since all of the victims are bigoted Christians.
Vaughn wanted to put the “fun” back in comic films, but maybe he should be concentrating on originality. As much as the film tries to poke fun at itself, there’s nothing new or interesting about a poor, white male rising to the occasion of saving the world. It also hurts that the film has a gender issue, relegating all its females to either supporting roles for the men or just mere sex objects — as is the case with a Swedish Princess whose only presence is to set up a somewhat disturbing anal sex joke at the end.
It’s respectable that Vaughn wants to make a film that’s enjoyable rather than cerebral, but there are plenty being made in the comic genre alone — isn’t that what The Avengers was? Instead, he should be focusing on his scripts, and writing something that isn’t just about connecting all the dots he wants to have. He needs to focus on creating a story that’s engaging, streamlined and, above all, original.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5