These days, Hollywood only has two seasons.
There’s early winter, with the critically-acclaimed movies that nobody actually watches, and there’s early summer, with mindless, populist crap that nobody takes seriously.
I’m obviously dramatizing here — but really, it does feel like on the average day, nobody gives a shit about movies anymore. I’d be surprised if a ticket doesn’t cost 30 dollars by next year. Anything to keep heads from rolling.
And yet, there is a really good movie out now called Kingsman: The Secret Service.
I’m writing about it here because the chances of knowing it’s even in theaters are so slim, since nobody talks about movies and 98% of the content on the internet is now dedicated to either “What’s New on Netflix this Month!” or “Here, Let Our Resident Critic Spoil Your Favorite TV Show!”
I am not going to spoil this movie for you, because I have no self-serving interest here in making myself appear smart. I actually just want you to go see it, because sometimes escaping life for two hours or whatever is important. It’s one of those sleeper hits, kinda like how John Wick was last year, with a premise and plot so invariably silly and unbelievable that you say, oh wow, this is ridiculous and… kind of amazing?
The name Kingsman: The Secret Service does nothing to help present this film as something that isn’t a d-level Disney flick, and yet, it’s actually based on a comic book, The Secret Service. I’d never heard of the comic before, but when I was watching the movie, I could instantly see it being a comic book. It felt like a comic book, but in a good way.
The film’s director, Matthew Vaughn, is the producer behind Guy Ritchie’s classic bruiser action movies Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, but is also the director of Kick-Ass and X-Men: First Class. Those bona fides aside, Kingsman is still probably his best attempt yet to mix British highbrow/lowbrow drama with action, suspense, comedy and comic-like sensibility.
This is a patently dumb movie — while you’re watching it, you might actually think: “Wow, this is a dumb movie!” — but it’s also undeniably really smart, too. It’s a spy movie that is in on the joke that is the ‘spy movie.’
It’s so good.
Colin Firth does his Colin Firth thing, playing a proper English gent who also doubles as a spy, and his action scenes are so expertly-choreographed that, honestly, I can’t remember any in recent memory that are better. Watching him spend five minutes waffling through hundreds of bad guys with one gun and a knife, I felt like I was a 9-year-old again, watching Terminator 2 for the first time.
What a delightful bit of senseless violence!
Samuel L. Jackson plays a lisp-tongued character who seems to be half hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons, and half professional Knicks fan Spike Lee. Jackson is not a particularly demonic bad guy, and in fact, his casting here may just up the ante on how ridiculous this movie actually wants to be.
But Sofia Boutella, a former real-life music video backup dancer, plays Jackson’s romantic interest and crime partner, the devilish yin to his too-good-to-be-bad yang. Boutella has prosthetic legs that double as swords, and because she’s dynamically-athletic and this a totally unrealistic movie, she can jump super high and run really fast, which helps her use those prosthetics for — what else? — killing people. She’s scary as shit, and I’m also in love with her.
Taron Egerton, a young British bloke, is in the lead role, training to become a spy. I have to admit that I’ve never seen Egerton before, but I suspect that after this performance — playing an affable twit trying to go straight — he’s going to be able to land whatever role he wants.
His action scenes are not quite as explosive as Firth’s (nor, as a plot-device, do they need to be), but they unwind in such a suspenseful way, in such a determined mode of confusion, that his performance calls to mind a young Mark Hamill as the reluctant hero Luke Skywalker in Star Wars. And wouldn’t you know it, Mark Hamill’s actually in this movie, so maybe that has something to do with it.
At its core, Kingsman is a fun, clever film — with a ton of inside jokes that film buffs will get a kick out of — but also one that has something deeply emotional and personal buried inside of it. It’s this idea, not a far-flung one either, that there is a large chasm between rich and poor, and that poor people can do better for themselves if they’re a) given better opportunities and b) once entrenched in those opportunities, mentored along the way.
That theme, explored by Egerton’s character, is resonating with viewers, who have helped this sleeper hit climb past $100 million at the box office domestically, and also bring in another $180 million abroad. People are going to see this movie.
But it’s interesting that at a time when audiences are so fragmented and pop culture either appeals to everyone or nobody at all — with movies, nowadays, it’s usually nobody at all — that theme is the one that people are identifying with the most. Turns out, a poor kid who society has all but counted out is one that people around the world really identify with. I wonder why.
There are other deep messages in the movie — technology-addiction and how it makes us treat other people — but I don’t want to give the whole movie away. I’ve probably already said too much.
Go see this movie. It’s enjoyable and worth the money.
Recommend this or Samuel L. Jackson will yell at you.