Directed by Matthew Vaughn, “Kingsman: The Secret Service” is a mixture of action and comedy, sophistication and fatuity. With spectacular imagery, the film is an excellent choice for recreation; however, no exception to many “good-looking,” eye-pleasing blockbusters nowadays, its content is not very well-developed.
Kingsman is a secret intelligence agency for which Harry Hart works. During a mission in 1997, one of his comrades sacrificed himself to save the team. Haunted by guilt, Harry promises to help his family. Seventeen years later, Gary “Eggsy,” the comrade’s son, is living an aimless life as an underdog in the family and society. Abused by his stepfather, and bullied by other kids, he meets Harry at his wit’s end. Harry successfully persuades Eggsy to apply for a vacancy in “Kingsman. After a strenuous period of training and testing, Eggsy makes it to the final round, but he is beaten by Roxy, another candidate he is close with.
At the same time, a philanthropist named Valentine is having a conspiracy to cut down world population. He distributes free SIM cards and transmits signals to these cards, triggering a body mechanism to incite people’s belligerence. After failing Kingsman’s recruiting process, Eggsy discovers that Arthur, the head of the corporation, is also Valentine’s accomplice. Along with Roxy and Merlin, a senior Kingsman, Eggsy leads a plan to destroy Valentine’s headquarter and his evil conspiracy.
Similar to many contemporary blockbusters, the visual of “Kingsman: The Secret Service” is beyond spectacular. Action-packed scenes are full of energy, portraying the skills and competence of the agents persuasively. Since “Kingsman” promotes the new icon of the “gentleman agent,” the choreography of fight scenes appears elegant. Physical strength gives way to precision, bodily violence to gadgets. In the final scene, after Eggsy successfully suspends Valentine’s system, resulting in world leaders being killed, Vaughn uses the image of fireworks blowing up their heads to imply death. Corresponding to the rhythm of the upbeat tune, this aesthetic choice suggests glory, adding a comedic flavor to the scene and masking the real horror of the disaster.
In this day and age, visual pleasure might be enough to help a film achieve high box office. However, since I treasure sophistication in story writing and depth in character building, I do not feel fully satisfied watching “Kingsman.”
Firstly, I find the film’s overall message rather problematic. The motto “manner maketh man,” the emphasis on dress code, and what separates a “real gentleman” from an ordinary one are all anti-liberal. The film adopts a pedagogical tone, attempting to “teach” boys how to behave. Is there any freedom if we are always obsessed with reaching a standard, becoming the superior? What I find pretty annoying is that it over-stresses the importance of the tailored suit. It resonates exactly with the most important thing society values nowadays – appearance. The surface has its weight, but over-valuing it is quite superficial.
Another weakness in the plot of Kingsman is the development of “bad” characters. The contrast between good and evil seems very shallow. Valentine, despite being the leader of a big corporation and a great-scale plan (attempting to control the whole humankind), is portrayed as a foolish man. He doesn’t know what he is doing. He is simply “evil;” there is no justification behind it. It seems as if he just shows up on the screen to tell the audience, “I’m the bad guy.” All he does is laugh and freak out. Two-dimensional, he might be the most boring villain I have seen in a while. His assistant, Gazelle, is absolutely more powerful and intelligent than him. I keep wondering why she hasn’t overthrown her boss and taken over his job.
The film also portrays people around the world as unbelievably stupid. Does Valentine’s plan, giving out a massive number of SIM cards, seem overtly suspicious? Why do such a huge number of people, from country to country, believe his plan without a single question raised? I am also amazed by how many world leaders side with Valentine. How did they get elected in the first place, if all they care about is themselves and not the people? Although it is a comedy, the way “Kingsman” depicts the world is actually very depressing.
What irritates me most is the ending of the film. After his victory, Eggsy comes back to the princess and Vaughn alludes to a sexual affair between the two. First, this is cliché: the male hero returning to his woman after rescuing the world. Second, it is out of sync with the story; consistency is broken.
Eggsy has nurtured such a burning desire to defeat Valentine to revenge for Harry, but when he succeeds, there is no tribute to his mentor. The storyline shifts abruptly to a different direction. Third, without doubt, it is sexist. Perhaps this detail serves to prove that Eggsy has “finally become a man:” the woman becomes the reward for the hero, the signifier for his manhood. The woman is merely an object, something to conquer and possess.
I have often been told by people not to criticize a comedy, since its sole purpose is to make us laugh. However, I believe the way we laugh actually reveals who we really are and what we really think. Condoning the problems of comedy films helps strengthen existing stereotypes and stigmas.
I do not attempt to deny the effort that has been put into “Kingsman” – I might not be able to make such a successful movie – but there are certain issues to be addressed. In this case, I choose to become a critical viewer.