TL;DR – This is a brilliant spy movie pastiche of the old school (pre-Dalton). It is a delightful mix of nods to various spy films – most especially Bond – but also a nod to the gentleman spy genre on a meta-level. I’ll try not to spoiler things too much, but if you’re a fan of the surreality, gadgets and sense of fun of the old Bonds (or Our Man Flint) this is a film you have to see. At the same time its a film with more depth and nuance than a lot of older films, with commentary to make about class, moral grey areas, Malthusianism. It’s also presented in a much more modern style, with some of the viciousness and dirty humour of Kick Ass, as well as a modern sensibility to the fight scenes. All the better.
Did you grow up liking spy films? Bond’s the obvious choice, but there were plenty of others. Still, Bond looms large over the whole espionage genre and the Napoleon Solos, Flints and later examples don’t hold a candle to him.
I loved Bond. Maybe it was the gadgets, maybe it was the cars, maybe it was his way with the ladies (maybe it was just the way they’d swoon and say ‘Oh James’, the name we share. One must also consider the fact that he was British, in a sea of American heroes. Whatever it was, I was hooked. Connery, of course, was the best Bond but the films I loved the best were, perhaps, two of the most camp ones. You Only Live Twice and The Spy Who Loved Me.
The new Bond is definitely an improvement on the – sadly poorly done – later Brosnan Bonds, but while the deadliness and sociopathy harks back to Connery’s early stint the cheekiness and sheer, hell-for-leather enjoyment has been missing.
These things move in cycles and perhaps Kingsman represents a push back to the more joyful, over-the-top enjoyment that has been missing.
I don’t want to give too much away as this is an early review (the film was only released today). However, I think a certain amount of synopsis should be alright.
The film revolves around the relationship between ‘Eggsy’, a young lad growing up on a grim London council estate and Harry Hart, a member of the Kingsmen. Eggsy’s father was a prospect to join the Kingsman organisation who was killed saving Hart on his graduation mission.
Wracked with guilt over what happened, Hart presents his widow – and young son (Eggsy) with a medal and the promise of a favour in the future.
Things don’t go well with Eggsy and his mum, they end up beholden to an estate thug and Eggsy grows up poor and borderline delinquent, washing out of the Marines and generally having no prospects until things go badly enough that he calls in the favour his family is owed and ends up being taken into The Kingsmen – who recently lost another member.
The film takes on three strands. Eggsy’s training and competition to become a Kingsman, the plans of the supervillain (played by Samuel L Jackson) and the efforts of the Kingsmen to uncover that scheme – largely headed up by Hart.
This results in an inevitable climax at the villain’s secret lair, but without much consideration for a sequel, the film is freely able to ‘go large’ and Eggsy is able to earn his stripes, and a fine prize to boot.
This is a slick film, presented in a refreshingly clear style that allows you to see and appreciate what is going on. The story is fairly simple, playing to existing tropes and ideas and it does’t spend needless time explaining them. This may seem shallow and predictable – and many of the story beats are predictable – but something doesn’t need to be that sophisticated in order to be fun.
The film also has fun undermining and playing around with the tropes and uses the common language of the genre to convey a slightly more subversive twist. Where Bond is establishment, Eggsy is ‘common’, though his chief critics for his low status all get satisfying comeuppances.
The villain’s mission isn’t, actually, evil. [SPOILER] Concerned by global warming, his idea is one that has been proposed before in relation to overpopulation and famine – cutting down the human population. While he is, no doubt, a pretty evil man all told, it’s hard to argue with the logic.
Some of the class issues are a nod to the fact that despite his status as gentleman spy, Bond was often played by lower class people. Connery came from a very poor background, Lazenby too. Moore had something of a more privileged background, at least in terms of education, but despite playing many gentlemanly roles, he was from a middle class background at best. Dalton was the only one really to have a relatively privileged upbringing so making the ‘playing at gentleman’ more explicit is a nod and a wink to the Bond films on a more… meta level.
The fight scenes are fantastic, brutal and balletic. Pub, church, base. All wonderful and Colin Firth as an action star is a surprise and a delight unparalleled since Liam Neeson started growling into telephones. I hope he does more.
Also, blades are cool. Despite Oscar Pistorious.
Style: 5 (While it misses a few beats here and there and the final conflict runs out of steam it’s not enough to dock a point).
Substance: 3 (You don’t need to know much, but I’m a stickler for backstory and the hints here and there weren’t enough).
Overall: 4 (Go out and see this film immediately.
Now I need to buy a suit…