‘Kingsman’: Homage or parody?

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MI6 is the British foreign intelligence agency. It serves as the organizational framework for the long-running James Bond franchise and many other spy films.

“Kingsman: The Secret Service” posits the existence of a covert organization that is independent of MI6. Using a Saville Road tailor shop as a front, these Kingsmen are emancipated from government bureaucracy, its putative corrupting influences and inefficiencies. Members are culled from the British privileged classes, wear bespoke suits, and exude a sense of patrician entitlement. They are dedicated to fighting evil forces in the world. Although it is never explicitly defined, it seems that they are all unpaid, gentlemen do-gooders. They imagine their operation as being in the model of King Arthur’s Round Table and even assume the monikers of his knights.

The film starts in 1997, somewhere in the Middle East. Harry Hart aka Galahad (Colin Firth) is on a mission, which is somehow botched. His protégé dies, while heroically saving Galahad’s life.

Consumed with guilt, Galahad visits the decedent’s bereaved widow, Michelle (Samantha Womack), and her young son, Eggsy (Alex Nikolov). He gives them a medal, emblazoned with a telephone number on its back. If either of them ever need help, they need only call the number and utter a specially coded message.

Fast forward seventeen years. Michelle and her twenty-something son, Eggsy (Taron Egerton), are now living with some brutish, Cockney cad (Geoff Bell) in south London government housing. As a youth, Eggsy had won gymnastic meets and demonstrated considerable promise. However, the fatherless lad was adversely affected by growing up in a lower class milieu. Now, he is at loose ends without any goals in sight.

One day, Eggsy is nicked by the police for stealing a car and taking it for a joy ride with his chums. In police custody, Eggsy recalls the medal that Galahad had once given him. He calls the number on its back and recites the code phrase that he was once told. Plausibility alert: Eggsy received the medal and message, when he was still a preschooler. Does it really make sense that he would still recall the cryptic message that Galahad had imparted back then?

In any event, Eggsy is immediately released from jail. As Eggsy departs lockup, he is approached by Galahad on the steps of the police station. Galahad explains that he is the one responsible for Eggsy’s release.

One of the other agents, Lancelot (Jack Davenport), has recently died on a mission. He was attempting to rescue a kidnapped expert on global warming, Professor Arnold (a now portly Mark Hamill, unrecognizable as Luke Skywalker of “Star Wars” fame). In this vignette, we meet our villain, Richmond Valentine, a lisping tech guru, who has made billions through his inventions. It also introduces his lead henchwoman, Gazelle (Algerian actress, Sofia Boitella). She wears pneumatically-powered prosthetic legs. These enable her to effortlessly bound through the air and are customized with lethal cutting blades.

To fill the vacancy created by Lancelot’s death, each of the various Kingsmen are charged with nominating a potential replacement. Undaunted by Eggsy’s lowly class status, Galahad submits him as a contender to fill the spot. The snobbish head of the spy organization, Arthur (Michael Caine), scoffs at the notion that some guttersnipe could survive the grueling training regimen.

In this image released by 20th Century Fox, Taron Egerton, left, and Michael Caine appear in a scene from "Kingsman: The Secret Service." (AP Photo/20th Century Fox, Jaap Buitendijk)

In this image released by 20th Century Fox, Taron Egerton, left, and Michael Caine appear in a scene from “Kingsman: The Secret Service.” (AP Photo/20th Century Fox, Jaap Buitendijk)

It turns out that Valentine is some sort of mad genius. He propounds the notion that humans are destroying the planet. Valentine concocts an elaborate scheme to kidnap prominent world leaders and celebrities. He plans to eventually annihilate most of the planet’s human population, other than a few chosen by him to survive. Will Galahad and his cohorts, including Merlin (Mark Strong) be able to thwart Valentine’s diabolical scheme?

“Kingsman” is derived from a comic book by Mark Millar. The graphic novelist also conjured up “Kick-Ass,” which inspired a cinematic adaptation and a sequel. Adapted by director, Matthew Vaughn, and Jane Goldman, who had previously collaborated on “Kick-Ass,” the film struggles to find its tone.

Vaughn has claimed that he intended “Kingsman” to serve as a homage to the Bond franchise. However, the film’s bizarre premise and sloppy plot mechanics are cartoonish. The litany of exploding heads, impaled bodies, and hyperviolent set pieces do little to redeem “Kingsman.” I was incredulous that this was the same director, who helmed the sublime, “Layer Cake.” Coincidentally, that film starred Daniel Craig, who became the current Agent 007.

“Kingsman” is subverted by a disconcerting sense of class consciousness. Valentine seems to be exhorting social Darwinism straight out of a Mitt Romney wet dream. However, this offers little contrast with the elitism, which is sanctimoniously espoused by the upper crust Kingmen.

The racial iconography is also disturbing. The Kingsmen are a bunch of exclusively white, British twits. The villain just happens to be an African American with a penchant for hip hop attire.

Replete with shapely female stars like Ursula Andress and Britt Ekland, the Bond films resonated with a sophisticated erotic edge. In “Kingsman,” instead we have a petulant, two-dimensional, female character, Sweden’s Princess Tilde (Hanna Alström). She offers to let Eggsy sodomize her royal ass. All Eggsy has to do is save the human race.

The best moments of “Kingsman” take place at its outset. The opening credits consist of chunks of rubble, which form from the residuum of a bombing raid. Snowflakes spontaneously aggregate to announce the film’s title. Despite these promising early touches, “Kingsman” is a muddled mess. It is debatable whether “Kingsman” is closer to being a homage to or an unintentional parody of the spy film genre.

** ½ R (for sequences of strong violence, language and some sexual content) 128 minutes

Nathan Lerner sees over 200 feature films a year. He welcomes feedback at lernerprose@gmail.com.


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