2015-02-13

Kingsman: The Secret Service – Uncomfortably Extreme

by Yo Snyder

This isn’t that kind of movie. Kingsman: Secret Service is very aware of how much it owes to the
likes of James Bond and others, but it also clearly points out that it isn’t
that kind of movie. At first it may be hard to tell the difference. After all,
it has the gadgets, it has the well-tailored suits, it has the gentleman spy,
it has the megalomaniac villain with plans of global destruction (or
redemption, depending on whether or not you buy into his rationalization); so
yes, it seems to be very much like some of those other movies. The difference,
however, is the extremes to which Kingsman
goes at times with both its violent content and with some of its dark humor.
There were a few time when those extremes just made me plain uncomfortable, and
despite being a favorite genre of mine for how entertaining I find it, there
were times where this particular spy movie just wasn’t entertaining because of
how extreme and dark it was. Most of that was played for laughs and for fun,
but it most definitely not how I felt, and despite my love for classic James
Bond movie, this was definitely not that kind of movie.

In truth, I enjoyed much of the film right up till about the
mid-way point when we first see the bad guy’s plans put into action during a “test”
run, which is done at a church. Now, I know this church was intended to be a
caricature of the Westboro Baptist Church extreme, but I think there was more
going on in this portrayal. It really kind of felt like this film was saying if
you’re going to test out something that will allow people to unleash their hate
and anger without any inhibition, naturally the best place to test that would
be in a place that’s anti-gay, anti-abortion, anti-sex, anti-Democrat, entirely
judgmental and etc., because obviously a place like that must be filled with barely
suppressed hate. It’s far from a positive portrayal of the Church, and perhaps
rightly so because of the Westboros and others who have admittedly given the
Church a bad rap. From what was said in this crazy church to what takes place
during the “test” run, and just how extreme all of that is, it was the turning
point in the film where I suddenly started to feel very uncomfortable and not
entertained at all. I’ll be the first to admit the Church has its flaws, but
this portrayal of it seemed particularly harsh, bleak, uninformed and unfair.
Granted, it is from a graphic novel,
so perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise that this was an extreme caricature, but
it made me uncomfortable nonetheless.

It’s interesting because this extremely uncomfortable scene
comes not long after the film delivers a rather profound truth. In trying to
explain what it means to be a gentlemen, one character explains that it has
nothing to do with the circumstances of our birth (i.e. class or status), but
has everything to do with who we decide to become. In short, nobility isn’t in
being superior to your fellow man, but rather in being superior to your former
self. Well that sound very profound, but the question remains how do we change?
How can we improve, truly improve from the inside out? We can put on all the
stylish suits we want, but if our core character doesn’t change, what does it
matter how we look? In one sense this film is completely correct in its
assessment that anyone can be better and become a true gentleman or lady, but
as to the source of that change it falls short. The suggestion that we can
accomplish that all on our is in error. In fact, the film undercuts its own
assertion by showing just easy it is to manipulate people into being anything
but noble. It purports that we can achieve higher through our own character
while at same time showing just how depraved the character of humanity is.
Still, it’s not wrong in saying we can be superior and leave our former selves
behind; we just need a little help. That’s where Jesus Christ comes in. He accomplishes
for us what we can’t accomplish on our own; namely making us someone new,
someone better, someone nobler. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new
creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Corinthians
5:17 ESV) So, in a way, I suppose this movie is absolutely right; if you truly
want to change, you do have to become a Kingsman. However, you just need to be
sure you’re following the right King.

There’s no denying that Kingsman
has a fun, kinetic visual style. Indeed, some of the scenes here are the best
action sequences I’ve seen on screen since John Wick. Along with the sharp
action, the film also has a sharp wit. It’s genuinely funny in parts, and
uncomfortably so in other parts. Finally, this a film that obviously has a lot
of respect for the films that have preceded it and to which it owes its
existence. There are some fun homages not only to James Bond, but fun call outs
to other stand-outs in the spy genre; including a brilliant call-out to Get Smart, which is about the last thing
I’d thought I’d here, but was so glad it was included. Unfortunately for all
the fun action and great humor, the film dives into to some pretty extreme
territory not only in the way the violence is portrayed, but also with its
darker humor. Personally, I would have enjoyed the film more thoroughly had
some of that been trimmed and toned down a bit. However, then it wouldn’t be as
true to its source material, and some of it does serve the story quite well
(some does not and is just gratuitous). I started out with such high hopes for Kingsman, and while it does deliver
exactly what it promises, it does so with such an edge and at times to such an
extreme degree that the film quickly went being an exciting guilty pleasure to
just being uncomfortable and making me feel guilty for even thinking that such
things could be “entertaining”. It stays true to its source and its creator’s
intent, but went places that I in good taste just could not follow.

Score: 4 of 7 – Kingsman: The Secret Service has the
potential to be a great action-spy flick, and it does pay worthy homage to the
genre while using its thrilling kinetic energy to feel fresh and new. However,
the extreme violence, the excessive language, the rather dark humor which at
times is just in bad taste, and a rather unfortunately negative caricature of
the Church with some subtle and negative subtext left me wish this was a
service that had remained secret.