This is a movie that features Barack Obama’s head exploding. It is also the best movie I’ve seen so far this year. Now, I’m not saying that these two facts are in any way related. Sure, the two sentences appeared next to each other, but that is merely a coincidence. I would never speak ill of our President. That would be racist, and I’m not a racist! I love the blacks!
Anyway, please don’t tell the NSA to release the number of times I’ve masturbated to Iggy Azalea to the public in retaliation, Barry. I’m working on a world record here! I’ll tell them when it’s time!
Kingsman is also a movie that is quite difficult to explain. The previews looked completely retarded, and I couldn’t figure out what the movie was supposed to be about. Are they really trying to make Colin Firth into a badass? What is going on here? But I’ve enjoyed all of Matthew Vaughn’s films, and I’ve enjoyed everything of Mark Millar’s that I’ve read (even if he does fall into his “trying too hard” area half of the time), so I decided to give it a shot. Really, how bad could it be? Jupiter Ascending and Blackhat are already out of theaters anyway.
They did it, though, and I shouldn’t have doubted them. This is a great, loving send-up of 60s/70s spy flicks in the same way that Kick-Ass was a send-up of contemporary superhero films. It fully embraces the crazy gadgets and ludicrous villainy of the era while providing enough fodder for conspiracy theorists to write thousands of pages of GeoCities-styled anti-Illuminati rambling. Oh, and they did manage to make Colin Firth seem pretty badass! It’s the movie event of the year for people who love the ridiculous. Well, at least until Cameron Crowe’s new flick comes out.
The titular Kingsman are a privately-run counter-terrorist spy organization based somewhere in London. Their codenames are patterned after the Knights of the Round Table of Arthurian legend, though they don’t actually sit at a round table for reasons unexplained. Every time a Kingsman dies, their codename is taken over by a trainee promoted to knighthood. The movie focuses on the selection process by which nine recruits will be reduced to the one to succeed the recently deceased Lancelot.
Galahad, played by Colin Firth, feels that the Kingsman have become too aristocratic, and thus decides to select an alumnus from a school other than Oxford or Cambridge. His choice is Eggsy, the son of a former Kingsman who was killed 17 years prior, and who now lives in a housing project with his widowed mother.
Meanwhile, Samuel L. Jackson decides to do something other than phone it in and delivers an entertaining performance as Valentine, a billionaire tech entrepreneur with plans for world domination. This is easily his best performance since Django Unchained. He speaks with a lisp half the time for no apparent reason, but lapses back into his normal Samuel L. Jackson mode whenever he needs to say “fuck”. It’s been over 20 years, but Samuel L. Jackson saying “fuck” still makes me laugh. I will never grow up.
Now that we’ve got the customary plot summary out of the way, let’s get to the ridiculous stuff! Valentine’s sidekick is Gazelle, a woman with prosthetic legs that double as razor-sharp blades. She cartwheels down hallways and slices people to ribbons all while dodging gunshots at point-blank range. While Valentine gets nauseous at the sight of blood, Gazelle seems to revel in dismembering people. She would fit into Goldeneye 64‘s multiplayer mode just fine, even if Baron Samedi still edges her out in terms of sheer loopiness.
All of your favorite Bond movie tropes are in this, by the way. One obvious nod is that the villain’s fortress has the rock walls of Blofeld’s from You Only Live Twice. So, if you’re like me and you’ve seen all of the Bond movies multiple times, you’ll probably catch more than a few subtle (and not-so-subtle) references scattered throughout. I’ll refrain from boring you with the details!
The bad guy’s evil scheme revolves around distributing free SIM cards that give unlimited talk, text, and Internet on his network, but can be used to broadcast a mind-control signal that induces murderous rage within its victims. He plans to use this signal to cause humanity to tear itself apart as a solution to the problem of global warming. As retarded as that plan sounds, I’d like to point out that it is less ridiculous than the bad guy from Die Another Day using a space laser to destroy the DMZ and allow North Korea to invade South Korea, rather than just using the space laser to blow up South Korea in the first place. It’s also less ridiculous than that time Christopher Walken tried to flood Silicon Valley by causing an earthquake with dynamite. Somehow, Kingsman manages to be more plausible than at least a third of the Bond canon, while ostensibly remaining a comedy. What can I say? Bond has had his ups and downs over the years…
Kingsman takes everything about the Bond movies and cranks them up to the level of absurdity. The lead henchwoman is completely off the wall (though awesome as hell), the villain recalls the “billionaire douchebag” archetype seen in films like Tomorrow Never Dies and Moonraker but adds in a more colorful “New Money” / Rodney Dangerfield in Caddyshack-style wardrobe, the gadgets include a bulletproof umbrella that somehow doubles as X-ray vision, and the film concludes with the most ridiculous and off-putting “Bond gets the babe” ending since Denise Richards came twice in one year. That final ass shot is a real “Mark Millar, ladies and gentlemen” moment, but it doesn’t take the film down or anything. I could get what they were going for, and it worked for me.
Really, here is Bond in all his glory: sexist, classist, violent, and willing to die to maintain the dominance of the powers that be. It’s only fitting that the film spends two-thirds of its running time with a lit fuse hissing in the background, just waiting for the moment to finally blow all of this to pieces. When it does, it is glorious.
Spoilers: Valentine developed a device that can protect a person from his mind-control rage signal. It is implanted behind the ear, and it includes the undisclosed ability to detonate and cause a person’s head to explode. Valentine shops this around to all of the rich and powerful worldwide, giving them immunity from the coming apocalypse while ensuring that anyone who tries to speak out against his plan can be silenced via an untimely head explosion.
Near the end of the film, when all seems lost and the waves of henchmen are closing in on our heroes, they get the bright idea to hack into Valentine’s systems and detonate all of the implants at once. In the ensuing mayhem, everyone worldwide who went along with Valentine’s plan is summarily killed. This includes, of course, the President of the United States.
There’s a lot of content in this film. We have an aristocratic organization that acts as a private spy organization, a New Money billionaire causing all sorts of faux pas due to his improper choice of hats, the civilian governments of the Western world corrupt to their very core, and the average world citizen depicted as an uncouth savage living in a housing project. Lest you feel that the movie is solely siding with the Kingsman, note that Michael Caine’s character, the fearless leader of the organization, resents Eggsy for his lack of pedigree and is later revealed to have sided with Valentine against the Kingsman. Really, the film seems to feel that everyone needs to be remotely detonated. Eggsy & Roxy are alright, but only because they aren’t over-the-top, unrepentant douchebags. They’re douchebags, sure, but by the standards of everyone else in the movie, they’re the best souls we have.
If you really want to descend into crazyland (and, let’s face it, that’s my element), you can note the parallels between King Arthur’s quest for the Holy Grail, the Knights Templar’s guardianship of the Grail, and the links between the Templars and Freemasonry and the Illuminati in various conspiracy and esoteric texts. The Kingsman is an organization that stands apart from the traditional power structures of Church & State, yet has itself become corrupted by a rigid adherence to the mores of the traditional aristocracy. Founded as a way to ensure proper transference of wealth after a group of rich families lost their heirs in the wake of World War I, the Kingsman clandestinely preserve the balance of power in the world more efficiently than any civilian government or publicly-traded company could ever hope for.
Valentine, as the face of the new brand of Capitalism that has come to envelop the world this past century, threatens the shadowy overlords’ ability to effectively control the world. He attempts an end-run around the traditional models of conditioning and control, and tries to effect a disintegration of the social fabric through overt, technological means. His attempt at culling the world population through violent, direct mind control contrasts with the cloak-and-dagger shenanigans and subtle propaganda favored by the shadowed elite.
The civilian governments are almost incidental in all of this. Obama is easily swayed by New Capitalism, and his head (along with the heads of his Cabinet) explodes in psychedelic fireworks in the very same room they all sat in as Osama Bin Laden met his demise. Much like Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Kingsman pulls no punches in depicting the corruption inherent in our current system of intertwined business and government. Kingsman, however, goes a step further by suggesting that humanity is an inherently flawed mass of individuals that requires the stewardship of a trusted elite to effectively function. While that elite may also fall to corruption, it only falters when it resists change. It is the old ways unwilling to move aside for the new that causes stagnation and, eventually, collapse.
Did I mention that Gazelle slices a guy in half from head to crotch? It was pretty awesome.
Anyway, I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by this movie. I read a blurb or two online before seeing it that claimed that the movie was ultra-right wing, ultra-violent, misogynistic, insane, and a whole host of other adjectives. I didn’t find it to be any of those things, exactly. Maybe I’m ultra-right wing, though. Maybe I’m desensitized to violence. Maybe I’m insane. I don’t know, guys. It’s possible!
I’m not a misogynist, though. I don’t think.
In conclusion, this is a film that is full of conspiracy theory nonsense, crazy action scenes sin shaky-cam bullshit, Bond references galore, and politicians’ heads exploding. How could it be anything but an early front-runner for Movie of the Year? And Samuel L. Jackson said “fuck” and everything!
Christmas really does come twice a year.