It was a busy week at the theaters. A certain movie-based-on-a-book made the biggest headlines, but following in a respectable second place was graphic novel adaptation Kingsman: The Secret Service. If you haven’t gotten a chance to see it yet, you can check out our review over here. If you were one of those who got out to see it this weekend, we hope you’ll join in our discussion of its finer points.
Tyler: I guess the best way to start off would be to share some overall thoughts on the movie.
Erik: Well after watching Blackhat, Project Almanac, and Jupiter Ascending over the past several weeks, it was nice to finally walk out of the theater with a smile on my face this year. So yes, I liked it. I liked it a lot. Mainly because the movie was just a lot of fun – from the action, to the set pieces, to the characters. I’m not going to say it was a classic or anything, but it was competently put together and entertaining.
Gabriel: Oh yeah, let’s be clear about that. In terms of fun, this was the best time I’d had at the movies since… I want to say November? Maybe earlier? It’s definitely the most entertaining ride that I’ve had from a movie in a nice, long while, and it was a complete breath of fresh air after this past January. With that said, I was a little torn about the film. I loved the first hour, maybe hour and fifteen minutes, but then once we got to the climax and things got really excessive and started to feel like they were parodying spy films REALLY hard, it lost me.
Tyler: I’m also going to jump on board and say I really enjoyed the movie. I was worried going that it was going to be more of the same tone that director Matthew Vaughn brought to the table with Kick-Ass even though there’s a lot I like in that film. I was pleasantly surprised to see that Vaughn and crew seemed to have a better understanding of how to combine the ultraviolence with comedy and the traditional spy movie tropes we’re all used to. How did you both feel about the tone of the movie? Specifically when it came to the violence?
Gabriel: Well, I think that there’s definitely a little bit of the Kick-Ass tone in here – I’m thinking of stuff like the fight in the church, which kind of feels like the movie going, “Here’s how brutal and horrifying an actual fight like this would be instead of the more cleaned-up version we get in James Bond films.” The problem for me is that it’s just one of the many tones in the film. I feel like there’s six or seven of them, and I’m never sure which one is going to turn up next at any part of the film. It felt very weird to me that a single film could have both that church fight AND the multi-colored smoke head explosions montage at the end, they felt like things from two totally different toolkits.
Erik: I’m actually in complete disagreement. Regarding the tone, I thought it was pretty consistent throughout. To me the multi-colored smoke head explosions set to a tune that I recognize as Macho Man Randy Savage’s theme song didn’t feel too different from the church sequences. You thought it was horrifying. I was watching it with a huge grin on my face. I don’t know, maybe I’ve watched one too many Japanese gore films, but to me there wasn’t any real ultraviolence in the film. There was maybe some exaggerated violence, but nothing too extreme (again, for my taste).
Tyler: I agree with you Erik in that I thought the “head explosion” sequence was great and I also had a huge smile on my face during that scene. Gabriel, there was one part of the movie where I felt the balance in tone got away from the filmmakers, and that was when Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson) first executed his plan by turning on his de-inhibitor device for the world. The scene involves a very upbeat song that plays as a signal of celebration for those he invited to his party, but it plays over scenes of people rioting and beating each other up. While the violence is toned down from the scene where he tries it on a congregation of Westboro Baptist stand-ins, the fact that we had already seen the horrific results of his plan made me very uncomfortable in a scene that was meant to be lighter that the rest of my theater found funny.
Gabriel: I remember the audience I saw that with not having much of a reaction to that… In general there were very few laughs in the last 40 minutes of the film for the crowd that I saw it with, even though there were some moments that were clearly meant to register as jokes or pokes at the James Bond tradition. I do get what you’re saying too, Erik. “Horrifying” was probably the wrong word for describing that church fight scene – I had a pretty similar reaction to you when I saw it, and part of that was definitely from the thrill of how much more violent it was than anything I was expecting. I guess the main thing that puzzled me was the way the film seemed to have a bit of sliding scale on how graphically or directly it portrayed violence. It started relatively stylized (Jack Davenport’s Lancelot gets cut in half with no visible blood or viscera), gets more grounded and heavy as the film goes forward, and then pulls a complete 180 at the very end and goes very over-the-top and cartoon-y. Then again, I may just be overthinking this – we are talking about a film where one the main characters is a sword-legged woman…
Tyler: Going back to my comment about being impressed with the film’s handling of its tone, I thought the church scene was very effective. You’re right Gabriel, it’s very different from the stylized action we saw earlier but I found that intentional as it was meant to be taken seriously. I was very disoriented because I don’t believe we had seen Galahad (Colin Firth) kill anyone until that point, at least not in that way.
Gabriel: And we hadn’t seen Colin Firth in any fight scenes since the one against Hugh Grant in Bridget Jones’s Diary. This was a bit of an upgrade from that.
Erik: Regarding the sequence late in the film you’ve both mentioned – Valentine’s genocide device – I didn’t think it was meant to be lighthearted just because there’s an upbeat song playing. That kind of juxtaposition – nice song, not so nice things happening – exists in a lot of films – from “Singing in the Rain” in A Clockwork Orange to “Stuck in the Middle With You” in Reservoir Dogs. I mean, I wasn’t bothered by most of it – but then again I do hate beaches and baseball – save for the mother going all Jack-Nicholson-in-The Shining on her infant daughter. That addition I thought gave it some real urgency. It made me really want to see Eggsy take down Gazelle and Valentine, so his little sister wouldn’t die.
Tyler: But the violence in that sequence is significantly toned down from the church scene. That leads me to think we were intended to find it more light-hearted with exception to the parts with Eggsy’s (Taron Edgerton) mother and sister.
Gabriel: Here’s another thing to consider – what do you guys think is the film’s ultimate position on the class issues that it keeps banging on about. It seems to lean heavily in the direction of, “People from the working classes shouldn’t be underestimated,” and, “Greatness can come from anywhere,” but it also ultimately ends up with the hero saving the day by putting on all of the accoutrements of the British aristocracy and going ballistic on the villain with all of the old-school tools that were given to him by his mentors. It struck me as wanting to be both pro-class equality and advocating for “The suit makes the man” at the same time, which I found a bit jarring.
Tyler: Like with the way it aims to handle violence and comedy, I think the movie means to say that there is a “happy-medium,” or balance between what it considers to be qualities of lower class versus higher class. I think this, along with parodying spy films, is why it chose to set the movie in England. Class systems exist everywhere, but England commands a popular connotation with distinct high and low classes, especially in America. Its similar to why Woody Allen’s Match Point is set there.
Erik: Yeah, I kind of agree with Tyler’s “happy-medium” assessment. When Eggsy puts on the uniform of the Kingsmen, as it were, it’s an exterior change more than an interior one. By the film’s end, Eggsy’s personality hasn’t changed much, but he has matured a bit. And I felt that was one of the film’s underlying themes, maturation. It seems to define maturation as learning from the old guard while still accepting that a new guard is on its way – neither should exclude the other. Which is why, thematically, Eggsy had to be the one who took down Valentine. By the end, Eggsy has matured in a way that Valentine hasn’t – he’s a 40-50 something man who acts like a twelve-year-old, and thought you could change the world through very simplistic methods (thinning out the human race, etc.).
Gabriel: I actually really like that way of engaging with the film, and seeing it in terms of, “Which characters mature and which don’t?” I’ll have to look for that the next time that I watch it. I guess in a certain way, even characters like Arthur (Michael Caine) could be seen as being stuck in a state of immaturity, what with being unwilling or unable to see the changes that were happening around him.
Tyler: While we’re on the topic of the character arcs in the movie, I want to touch base on the performances, particularly Colin Firth’s and Samuel L. Jackson’s. What did you think of them and were there any others that stood out to you, either negatively or positively?
Gabriel: As I mentioned when I was writing the review for the film, those were the two performances that really jumped out at me (Jackson’s and Firth’s). I really loved Jackson, of all people, being cast as this immature, unassuming villain, the kind of person that has grand designs but is practically being driven by his henchwoman just because he lacks the thirst for blood to really get his hands dirty. I thought it was great to see Jackson in such an out-of-type role, and he was a ton of fun to watch hamming things up and chewing the scenery. Firth, I also liked for all the opposite reasons – I loved how much he underplayed most of his scenes, how quiet and reserved he was. He really felt like a chip off the old James Bond block. The problem is when they both get put together – Firth seems to say, “This is fun, but it can also be serious and have a real sense of gravitas to it.” Jackson seems to say, “This is just a cartoon, so let’s blow some stuff up!”
Erik: I actually thought that made their scenes fun. It also kind of showed how the Kingsmen could underestimate this clown. Then again, in their scenes I was mostly distracted by the McDonald’s tray, so maybe on a second viewing I’ll notice something similar. I do have my own criticism regarding the acting though, and it’s really the film’s biggest flaw. It needed much more Mark Hamill.
Gabriel: Agreed. Hours more. Wall-to-wall Hamill.
Erik: A director should not waste the rare opportunity to get a live Hamill performance on screen. He doesn’t do in-front-of-the-camera work often (instead, TONS of voice-over work), but when he does (i.e. a little film called Sushi Girl) he proves to be an excellent character actor.
Tyler: Agreed on all fronts. I think we can all say we enjoyed this quite a bit. I was happy to see it did well on its opening weekend even against a juggernaut like Fifty Shades of Grey. I hope this is a sign that we’ll get more R-rated action movies and comedies like this in the future.
Erik: And it reminded me how much I wish Matthew Vaughn was still doing X-Men movies. We’ll never know how much we truly lost on that franchise.