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Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015)

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Score: 3/10

Genre: Action and Spy Running Time: 2 hrs. 9 min.

Release Date: February 13th, 2015 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Matthew Vaughn Actors: Colin Firth, Taron Egerton, Samuel L. Jackson, Sofia Boutella, Mark Strong, Sophie Cookson, Michael Caine, Mark Hamill

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verything from the visuals to the violence in “Kingsman: The Secret Service” denotes a jumble of clashing ideas and styles.  The plot and antagonist leap directly from the cartoony pages of a comic book (the film is indeed an adaptation of a Mark Millar graphic novel), while secret agent training tactics and moments of carnage mimic modern day horror flicks. One minute, jokey quips are tossed about as casually as ragdoll bodies fly through the air – and the next, blunt cursing spews as freely and vigorously as blood splatter and severed appendages. Director Matthew Vaughn’s latest effort is unpredictable and exciting at its best, but such interludes are depressingly brief. At it’s more frequent worst, “Kingsman” is jarring, unconvincing, and utterly nonsensical.

Ever since his father was killed during a top-secret mission, young Gary “Eggsy” Unwin (Taron Egerton) has seemed destined for great things. But seventeen years later, he leads a delinquent lifestyle of petty crime and run-ins with the law. All that changes on the fateful day he encounters Harry Hart (Colin Firth), a member of the same elite spy group his father belonged to. After being offered a chance to join “The Kingsman Knights,” Eggsy is thrust into a series of rigorous and often life-threatening training exercises that force him to compete and coordinate with fellow recruits Roxy (Sophie Cookson), Charlie (Edward Holcroft), and Digby (Nicholas Banks). Meanwhile, Hart investigates a recent string of high-profile disappearances linked to eccentric philanthropist Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson), to uncover a diabolical plot that will test the limits of bravery and resolve of each current Kingsman and their new protégés.

A film like this, juggling concepts ranging from essentially superhero capabilities to global domination to merely training a new apprentice, is very much a balancing act. But here, the fusion of too many ideas is a stylistic mess; it contains the comedy of a cartoon, the adventure of a 007 extravaganza, and the violence of a zombie thriller or a video game (at certain points, the camera actually assumes a first-person shooter perspective). As each scene passes, the focus continues to shift, the plot becomes more needlessly convoluted, and the action choreography grows more preposterous (at times, resembling something out of a music video). It’s an exhausting exercise in overworking a comic book novelty into something grotesquely derivative and uninspiring.

Enthusiastic hooliganism, gentlemanly fashion, and gravity-defying combat turn the modern day knights into something along the lines of the Men in Black, but without the entertaining chemistry, personalities, and gadgetry. Even the weaponry, with its distinctly futuristic ludicrousness, alternatingly rips off John Steed, James Bond, Harry Palmer, Rosa Klebb, “Mission: Impossible,” and the likes of “Star Wars.” The disregard for realism is part of the design, but since the events take place on earth, they’re incredibly difficult to accept, regularly resembling the out-of-this-world feel of a Marvel epic.

Most absurdly outrageous of all is the lengthy training scenes, which present contradictory lessons or unused skills. The first test is orchestrated to teach teamwork – yet the whole point of the drills is to choose a single winner. The lessons in cooperation quickly devolve into bullying and discouragement as the candidates vie for superiority. Next is sniper schooling, which is never even utilized in the subsequent storyline. And later, despite specifically stating that the Kingsman agents only take lives in order to save lives, trainees are instructed to kill a helpless animal – without even the mention of such a merciless sacrifice countering some other horrific act. It’s a purely moral ultimatum that doesn’t even illustrate a necessity for following orders (it might have been solely appropriate in the military setting of something like “Dog Soldiers”).

“Give me a farfetched theatrical plot any day.” As the film mockingly points out, espionage movies are generally judged by the creativeness or quirkiness of the villain. Directly addressing that standard, “Kingsman: The Secret Service” invents a purely comedic antagonist, complete with a most unusual, unthreatening lisp. And, true to form, he’s a megalomaniac bent on global chaos. But he’s also a one-note gimmick, like Dr. Evil from “Austin Powers,” which can’t sustain an overlong, poorly paced picture of conflicting messages and tired spy movie tropes.

– The Massie Twins

 



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