director Matthew Vaughn
Back in January, Jason Ward of The Guardian wrote this intriguing essay/review about Matthew Vaughn’s Kingsman: The Secret Service, asking the question “Is Kingsman the most conservative comedy this century?” Not long after that, a friend of mine was posting similar questions on social media after he’d attended the movie with his son. And the thought was planted for me, wondering about this movie.
I’ve watched all the Matthew Vaughn movies I’m aware of: Layer Cake (2004), Stardust (2007), Kick-Ass (2010), and X-Men: First Class (2011) and I’ve liked them all to varying degrees. I don’t know that I’ve really analyzed the social underpinnings of any of them too deeply, with the vague exception of Kick-Ass whose thin line between cool and deplorable was crossed in the non-Matthew Vaughn sequel, Kick-Ass 2 (2013).
In film school, it’s all about analyzing movies for their underlying ideologies, so much information about patriarchy and capitalism that you tend to suck down with the narrative, hidden like a pill in sugar-coating, swallowing the whole. But at the same time, movies do invite the brain to turn off (which I suppose is exactly the point), but it is an interesting conceit to have a film that hosts such a blatantly conservative dictum.
Kingsman is an adaptation from a comic book by Dave Gibbons and Mark Millar, so how much of it is baked in at the start? I can’t say. It is a spoof or reinvention of sorts of the spy genre, featuring a secret society of nattily-clad gentlemen heroes who keep the world safe from villainy.
One thing that Ward doesn’t really address in his article is the fact that it is a private organization. It is thus unlike James Bond, who is essentially a government employee, or at least is on “her majesty’s secret service”. This is privatized superhero spying. Which says a lot too.
That the villain is a “lisping, squeamish” climate change advocate does seem significant. Samuel L. Jackson plays this role with maybe a little too much comic flare. The whole movie is a comedy, not utterly arch, but still comic, while indeed also being remarkably cartoon violent. Heads do seem to explode (though it’s more the arteries of the neck) turned into a firework display perhaps to limit the amount of digitized blood that would be spurting forth from the heads of so many. Including a pretty clear representation of Barack Obama. Who sides with the baddies and whose heads also blows up.
The film is both entertaining and problematic. Though maybe more the latter than the former. The massacre in the racist church, acted out by the would-be hero of the movie, played by Colin Firth, while under a mental derangement of hyper aggression and violence is one of the film’s balletic set-piece, synchronized to a booming soundtrack, gruesome and extreme, but troubling. Is it meant to be troubling? Hyper-violence ruled the day in Kick-Ass, the kind of brutal justice meted out by vigilantes in comics and movies that is essentially a release of vengeance and justified blood-letting. In Kingsman, this scene in particular, is strange.
We like Firth. We know he’s being manipulated into this shocking set-piece of carnage. Are we meant to be disturbed as well as somewhat gleeful in the gracefully choreographed kill-a-thon?
Overall as a film, I found Kingsman okay. Good. Not great. Not something I would recommend. But I’m also kind of fascinated with its politics and its weird layered variance of its political messaging. Someone, I don’t doubt, will pore this over and come up with a more well-constructed analysis, perhaps, than even Ward offered.
In the meantime, I’ll move on. And apparently so will Kingsman. I understand a sequel is in the offing.