Many of the recent additions to the spy movie genre were mostly dark and serious in tone, something many fans - especially those of the Bond franchise - disliked, but which definitely worked exceptionally well at the box office (Skyfall made more than USD 1.1 billion!). Yet it looks like the classic Bond-like, tongue-in-cheek style is making a come back and if you are a fan of the genre, there are plenty of new movies to pick from recently and in the near future. One of them is “Kingsman” which I watched yesterday and I’d like to write a few words about. (Might contain spoilers for some!)
First of all, the references to the Bond movies are obvious and plenty. Basically, you have everything: Gadgets, underground lairs and henchmen dressed in overall uniforms. The main protagonists orders a Martini, is a equipped by a very Q-like figure and takes orders from someone who’s essentially M. The evil plan that needs to be foiled is more or less taken out of Moonraker. Once the job’s done, the movie ends on a classy note, meaning with a sex joke that makes even those of the Moore era Bond films look tame in comparison.
But that’s where the parallels to the “classics” end and Kingsman mixes in a good portion of Austin Powers: Everything about the movie is intentionally over the top. For example, the theme of the British gentleman is taken to the extreme, with the young protagonist looking outright ridiculous in his bespoke suit outfit. If Harry goes on a killing spree, he doesn’t kill two, five or ten of the villain’s henchmen, but a church filled to the brim with the members of a religious hate-group. The music chosen as background in many scenes intentionally takes away any seriousness from even the most intense action sequences. Samuel L. Jackson is seen in a very untypical but excellently played role as lisping super-villain who can’t stand the sight of blood and hates killing people, while at the same time scheming the end of humanity. And the way the collaborators of said villain meet their demise at the end of the movie is just too beautiful to give away in this review.
One would think that the combination of a comedy-action-flick with all the signature elements of the Bond franchise would already make a fun film. But - maybe unfortunately - Kingsman tries to stack on even more: The protagonist is introduced as a child that has lost his father and who has screwed up afterwards, blaming it on his violent step-father and his less-than-perfect living conditions. This actually sets a relatively serious tone at the beginning of the movie, which is somewhat inconsistent with the slapstick elements that are used from the get go. After being recruited as a candidate to become a Kingsman, him and the other candidates have to go through a supposedly tough and difficult program of tests. And while this looks and feels somewhat similar to the Hunger Games, it is far less believable than in said movies and relies heavily on simple stereotypes of posh but incapable upper-class kids and kind but weak female characters. So especially in the second third of the movie, it sits between two chairs and it is not completely clear what it actually wants to be.
Those weaknesses aside, Kingsman is great fun and I had some good laughs. There are some more or less subtle political messages weaved in at the end of the movie which made it even more worthwhile to me. The cast is great and most of the main characters are well written and acted. The fact that the producers didn’t go for a PG-13 rating - like the Bond-franchise usually does - allowed them to mix the classic humor with more intense (and well choreographed) action and a good portion of splatter (expect to see some blood). All in all, I could see Kingsman becoming a movie series that would serve as a good alternative for all those who are not happy with the path the Bond movies have taken. At the same time, it is a clear testament to why the Bond movies have toned down their slapstick component in favor of a more serious atmosphere: After Austin Powers, most of the elements that “make a Bond movie” lie clearly in parody territory and if you don’t want to make a pure, over the top comedy like Kingsman, you have to use them sparingly. I’ll happily enjoy both and I’m looking forward to seeing how the comedic American version - The Man from U.N.C.L.E. - and the next iteration of the “original” - Spectre - will turn out later this year.