Stephen Miller

AI researcher, startup cofounder, podcaster, person, etc.

Review: Kingsman: The Secret Service

January and February are the cruelest months, breeding low expectations and films which somehow fail to meet them. You can watch Kevin Costner learn about race relations, or Liam Neeson go down with a franchise, or Kevin Costner learn about race relations again, or (heaven forbid) bland erotica target a different gender. While staring down these dreary options, in walks Colin Firth, double-breasted suit glimmering through the darkness, inviting you to join an inventive, refreshingly fun romp. Or so critics have raved.

Kingsman tells the story of Eggsy (Taron Egerton), a young British ruffian who is introduced to an underground world of espionage. With the help of Galahad (Firth), he learns the ropes of this new society, saving the world from a philanthropic maniac (a hilarious Samuel L. Jackson) and embracing the basic tenants of Gentlemanhood in the process. If this sounds like a spy version of My Fair Lady to you, the script already beat you to that and many other punchlines. Giddily self-aware and unabashedly exaggerated, the film was very fun — sometimes. It’s the other 2/3rds that were a problem.

The film’s centerpiece is a seriously impressive, hyper-stylized action sequence set in a thinly-veiled Westboro Baptist church. I totally get why everyone is raving about it — it comes out of nowhere, hitting absurdly violent heights that’d make Tarantino smile. But the reason it comes out of nowhere, and I suspect one of the reasons everyone was blown away, is that the film before (and, barring a few other great moments, the film after) is eye-roll-worthy, cliched fluff. The scene is a standout because the bar had already been set at “decent.” Like Seth McFarlane, Matthew Vaughn’s love for pop culture leads to both genuinely clever moments and a frustrating belief that winking imitation equates to great satire. It doesn’t. Boring exposition and seen-it-a-million-times training scenes aren’t automatically a blast to sit through just because the actors are mugging the camera, and the director being in on the joke doesn’t make shallow characterizations or [seriously off-putting] misogyny any more fresh. At its witty best, it shows hints of a wonderful film: a satire, a teenage fantasy, and a gleeful throwback. Vaughn clearly had it in him. Too often, though, it felt like a lesser version of the things it was throwing back to: style without a point of view, emotional beats without conviction. There’s still some fun to be had, for sure. But it doesn’t have the firepower to save us from this C-movie wasteland.

Chris and I disagreed on this one, but I really enjoyed the discussion surrounding it on:

See my review on Letterboxd

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