“Kingsman: The Secret Service” is pretty awesome. I’m not going to dance around it, the film is a supremely enjoyable action film that is self-aware and satirizes spy films and the “Prince and the Pauper” genre of showing a lower class person the higher classes, but as it satirizes it is also PART OF the genres, much like “Scream” was a satire of slasher films while also being a part of them. The spy stuff isn’t the most interesting part of the film, however, as spy satires and spoofs have been done to death after “In Like Flint”, “Austin Powers”, “Get Smart”, and countless other films. What makes “Kingsman” interesting are its truly bugnuts crazy, bizarre politics. This movie’s political philosophy is just fucking weird.
The plot involves a secret spy and paramilitary organization called the Kingsmen. The members of this organization have codenames derived from the legend of King Arthur, wear stylish bulletproof suits, and all around exude sophistication and elegance. They are very, very British. When one of their members dies, the other members each put up a young man (or woman) to take the deceased members place. The main Kingsman we follow is Harry Hart (Colin Firth) who submits the son of an earlier deceased comrade. The son, called Eggsy (Taron Egerton), has intelligence and physical skill, but has not put his potential to use for various reasons, mostly related to his mother shacking up with an abusive guy. We get the usual scenes of Eggsy and the colleagues being trained and tested, though delightfully Eggsy is given a pug to look after (I have 2 pugs, so any significant screen time given to one adds points in the film’s column).
It goes without saying that Eggsy, as our protagonist, will eventually end up a Kingsman. The barebones of the plot, a secret organization for good must stop a megalomaniacal villain, are nothing new. What is new, and will require delving into spoilers, is how REALLY WEIRD this film’s politics are.
Our villain is Valentine, played with a lisp by Samuel L. Jackson. Valentine is an internet billionaire whose motive and scheme deserve some discussion. Valentine is very upset that Global Warming will inevitable kill the human race, much like a human body will heat up to kill a disease that the body is host to. Valentine is especially is upset that politicians will do nothing about this problem because they are too concerned with short-term goals like re-election instead of long term issues which effect life on this planet. His plan, then, is to go around democratic governance and use his wealth in the tech industry to create a SIM card that will offer free internet and cellular service to every man, woman, and child on the planet. Once most of the people on Earth have this free product, the product triggers some sort of reaction when activated where it turns off people’s inhibitions and ramps up their aggressiveness so that they’ll kill each other, thus (Valentine hopes) killing off most of the human race to save a small portion of it from extinction. Okay, I get it, you kill off some people to save other people. This is kind of like Ozymandias’ scheme in “Watchmen” to kill millions of people in order to save billions of them. The difference with Valentine is that he’ll be killing more people, initially, than he’s saving in a brutally violent genocide. Also, the people who are to be saved are all people of Valentine’s choosing, and Valentine seems to only recruit the rich, politicians (even though he complains about their inaction), and a handful of scientists and entertainers that he likes. For a villain concerned with Global Warming, he sure acts like John Galt from “Atlas Shrugged”. Later, likens himself to Noah (or God) and asks if God or Noah, or the saved animals were evil in that story. Valentine and his chosen people of course claim “no”. I’d say they are, and since Valentine is the villain here, my guess is the filmmakers want us to say they’re villains too. If nothing else, “Kingsman” is a decidedly anti-religion film. Still, at least the villain wants to do something about Global Warming, and he has a reasonable disgust with how politicians are dealing with the matter. It’s just odd that his solution is mass genocide, and that his ego leads him to want to create a new world of non-egalitarian picks for survival. Oh, and Valentine also implants a chip in his picks so that he can kill them at any time. Oh, and he also kidnaps people he wants to survive but who don’t wish to go along with his plan. Yeah, Valentine is a weird character with no discernable political philosophy.
The idea of a technology, especially cell phones, making people crazy and murderous is not particularly new. Films like “The Signal” and books like Stephen King’s “Cell” have done this before. The twist “Kingsman” puts on it is that the product of people’s destruction is offered to them for free by a supposedly altruistic rich person. You have a faux-egalitarian scheme that caters to people’s want of selfish and pointless consumption of technology. This seems to be an indictment of our society in total, and partially arguing that it’s our own damn fault if some rich ass wants to take advantage of us because, hey, we want something for nothing, and it’s a stupid something, unlike food or shelter. This seems like a Conservative message against helping the masses, but we have a Liberal message of Global Warming being real and inevitable, but then that villain chooses only upper classes (mostly Conservative), save for scientists and some Liberal celebrities, and politicians of both ideologies (we get a Conservative Swedish Prime Minister and President Obama)…yet the villain claims to hate politicians. What?
The film does hate religion, though. In perhaps my favorite scene of the film, Harry goes to a radical hate group’s church in Kentucky not unlike the Westboro Baptist Church. Here, the preacher goes on with various racist and homophobic epithets, as well as preaching against abortion and the usual stuff super-Christians hate. It’s at this location that Valentine’s tests his whole SIM card thing, and we are treated to a sequence where Harry pretty much single-handedly kills everyone in the church, who themselves have all gone crazy and murderous, as “Free Bird” plays on the soundtrack. This is a gruesomely violent scene, and gloriously choreographed and executed (no pun intended). So the one thing besides global warming that the heroes, villains, and the filmmakers all agree on is that religious zealots suck.
So what about the Kingsmen themselves? This is an organization which seems to be all upper crust, blue blood, stiff upper lip type people who would all be, as Eggsy puts it, born with silver spoons up their asses. The film, oddly enough, doesn’t have them represent Conservatism or the status quo or anything as simple as that. Harry makes the point that it’s not a man’s wealth or superiority that makes him a good man, it is whether or not he is better than the man he used to be (I think he quotes Hemingway at this point). Indeed, in order to become a Kingsman you have to pass numerous tests and trials of intellectual, physical, and other skills. While the Kingsmen seem to largely recruit from the upper classes (a few recruits mention their colleges as being Oxford and the like) it is only merit that will succeed in making you one of them. Meritocracy allowing for upward mobility is progressive (as it is true merit and not the upper classes claiming merit that do not possess, which is often a hallmark of Conservative Capitalists), but the film still showcases the correct way of being is still wearing expensive suits, having a 50s version of manners, and knowing and drinking expensive vintages of alcohol. You don’t have to be hoity-toity upper class to be a Kingsman, but once you are, you better adopt some of their trappings.
Plus, the Kingsman themselves are a secret, undemocratic organization that exists beyond any single government’s authority or oversight and is seemingly funded by trusts and inherited wealth dating back to 1800s aristocrats. Harry sort of insults the leader of the Kingsmen, codenamed Arthur (Michael Caine) by saying he hasn’t left behind his aristocratic ways, but telling him this doesn’t have much power when you yourself just drank brandy dating back to the age of Napoleon. We are told that the organization does pass on their intelligence to other agencies, but they still operate according to their own rules and whims. I suppose one could argue it’d be hard to make a liberal or progressive spy organization that still conforms to the basic genre needs of the spy film, and that trying to shoehorn a Liberal philosophy into the Conservative trappings of, say, a Bond film would lead to the inevitability of a mixed, nonsensical, weird political philosophy such as “Kingsman” has. I don’t disagree, but that doesn’t stop the film from being so weird that it kind of bugs you a bit.
Some consideration has to be given to the film’s treatment of gender. Of the recruits for Kingsman, two are female and the rest (I didn’t count, but at least 4-5) are male. We’ll later find out that one of the two females was a fake recruit sent to be fake killed and thus up the ante for the other recruits. So, we really only had one female recruit. She eventually wins the contests (Eggsy will get in another way) but she is also shown as more nervous and needed of men’s help than the other recruits. She is scared to the point of near paralysis during a skydiving task, and then a later mission to blow up a satellite she nearly fails. She does succeed, but then the film shows that blowing up the satellite was largely pointless as it barely hindered the villain, thus making our female hero rather useless and a scaredy cat. Not exactly progress.
The biggest thing, though, is the ending. One of the people Valentine has kidnapped for not going along with his plan is a Scandinavian princess (Hanna Alstrom). Eggsy finds her locked in a cell and asks her if he’ll get a kiss from her if he saves the world. She informs if me that he saves the world, she’ll let him fuck her in the ass. Now, while this is funny and it is the woman who offers this, we still have a case where the man’s prize for succeeding at his mission is a woman. Specifically, the ability to fuck this woman in her asshole. Look, I enjoyed the show of this actress’s butt as much as the next guy, and if I were an 18-year-old superspy who saved the world I’m sure I would have loved to fuck a Scandinavian princess in the ass, but reducing a woman to her butthole-as-prize-for-winning is about as sexist as anything in a Bond film, especially since her character adds nothing to the story proper and exists solely to provide the film with one or two laughs and our hero with anal sex for a job well done.
The weirdness of the film’s politics and its less-than-progressive treatment of gender aside, the film is, as I said, pretty awesome. It is a fun ride with some good action scenes and many humorous moments. The oddness of the politics almost add an extra layer of enjoyment to the film at the same time that they are maddening, because bizarreness is at least more interesting that the dull, binary nature of most spy films with an easy dichotomy of good-vs.-evil. Colin Firth plays his role perfectly, and Sam Jackson’s weird choice of a lisp actually helps Jackson tone down his badass-ness and be more of the character that was written, who is squeamish about blood and kind of a pansy. Ending the movie with “Slave to Love”, including a sizeable role for a pug, and the self-aware references to films like “Dr. Strangelove” and “Trading Places” all make this film pretty damn likeable to me. The film subverts the spy genre while still being wholly of it. And, hey, an entire church full of super-Christians are brutally murdered to “Free Bird”. This film is almost impossible not to like.
But man, this film’s politics are fucking weird. B+.