Directed by Matthew Vaughn, Kingsman is not your mother’s spy film. Hip and modern, infused with a classic air of British sophistication, this film aficionado left the cinema touting a wide grin and two thumbs up.
The film starts with an introduction to Harry Hart, played by none other than Colin Firth (heritage cinema actor, tried and true…check). He is part of an elite team of spies, headquartered in London (though they’re unaffiliated with any government), working for the international good. One of Harry’s team members, Lee, sacrifices his life early in the film, leaving behind a wife and son. Harry bears this stoically (like any proper Brit), though he offers his assistance should the wife or child of his fallen comrade need help in the future.
Fast-forward a few years: Eggsy, the son of our fallen hero is now grown. He’s a bright young man, although raised on what might be called the wrong side of the tracks. His mother has remarried a drunken lowlife, and Eggsy’s only solace is getting away from their council estate flat to cause a bit of mischief with his friends.
Without giving too much away, Eggsy finds himself in trouble with the law. He contacts Harry, and a whole new life is opened up to him. Although unsure of himself, Eggsy proceeds to be trained as a spy, with a class of ‘uppers’ who constantly remark on his origins. In this way, I found the film to be refreshing. So much of British cinema focuses on the divide of classes, whilst Kingsman focused on not just transcendence of class, but transcendence of self, set in a modern and recognisable world. Eggsy doesn’t believe in his abilities coming into training, and the chip on his shoulder is very nearly physically visible. He finds in Harry a patient father figure who teaches him a lesson, quoting Hemingway:
“‘There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.’”
This was the perfect juxtaposition to the classist philosophy. Given Britain’s past with a rigid class system, the recognition of true nobility coming from within resonated with me. It’s been said in other reviews that the film caters to an American audience, with their love for high-class British culture or “bit of posh”. It would be my suspicion that this film catered to a wider British audience, even more so than a general American one. In Eggsy, we have the underdog, the young man raised with little privilege. Harry gives us the true soul of nobility, and Michael Caine’s character, Chester, represents ‘The Establishment’, if you will. These three faces allow us to see the humans beyond their classes, and if you’ve been raised as a Briton, I imagine the contrast here is even more apparent. Of course we know the Uppers don’t always behave righteously. Then again, neither do the rest, regardless of where in the world you are. But these relationships gave more credence to a theory of mine: the British class structure is changing, and is perhaps more fluid than it ever was before. When social changes become apparent on the silver screen, chances are they’re taking place in the real world.
Both The Telegraph and The Guardian were quick to point out faults in the film. The Telegraph’s limited coverage seemed displeased with the film’s references to the Bond franchise, as well as a tasteless and really unnecessary line about anal sex by the Swedish princess (that The Telegraph and I agree on). The Guardian was more concerned with the stereotyping of Samuel L. Jackson and racism featured in the American South scene, where rednecks are Bible-thumping away about “the gays and the liberals”. I think, as an American, it’s fair to say most people don’t have a huge problem with an attack on Westboro-esque ideals. And Jackson’s megalomaniac antagonist was massively entertaining and provided some leeway for our suspension of disbelief. However, the presentation of violence in the American South church scene I did find problematic.
The film itself was fun, packed with excellent action sequences accompanied by music I wouldn’t generally expect from an action/spy film. Keeping to my expectation of British culture, I assumed by using almost techno/club beats, there was less emotion involved with the horrific, if not spectacular, mass slaughter sequences. This juxtaposition served as a guiding factor for the collective emotional response of the audience. Manipulative? Perhaps. But a certain degree of violence is expected when watching a spy film. The actual violence in the film was not my biggest issue, in comparison to the length of time spent on the violence and violent images. It is clearly an adaptation of a comic book franchise, and this is fairly obvious in said images. Whilst the adaptation element needs to be taken into account, I still feel strongly that the violence could have been less, and indeed, should have been.
Overall, however, Kingsman was a great bit of fun. I enjoyed the constant references to British-isms (breeds of dogs, the British unwavering value of politeness), the wry humour, the relationship between Harry and Eggsy, and Eggsy’s revival of confidence in himself. Something for everyone, as the old adage goes. There have been whispers of a sequel. And I know I’d happily queue up for Kingsman II.