I started Proust’s The Guermantes Way a few months ago, still have some five hundred pages to go. So if I have two hours to spare, why do I not get back to it and make some headway, instead of going to the theatre to see Kingsman: The Secret Service on the first day of its screening?
For pure escape, of course. And then there’s the CF factor.
Yes, if the Colin Firth you have in mind is Mr. Darcy doing his graceful dive into the pond, you’re in for a big cognitive dissonance. Indeed, you can call this a paradigm shift for Colin Firth. He’s still a gentleman, mind you, dapper and poised, but he is one suave, choreographed fighting and killing machine, six month in the training, as he admitted in (real life) interviews.
British director Matthew Vaughn, who brought us Kick-Ass (2010) and X-Men: First Class (2011), had taken on adapting the Marvel comics created by Dave Gibbons and Mark Millar (Kick-Ass) by mashing fantasy and realism into one big action-packed, stylish, fun and at times farcical British spy adventure. The production is like an homage to Ian Fleming’s James Bond and all those in the secret intelligence service MI6, from Q to M.
But to evoke an even deeper root, The Kingsman is Arthur (Michael Caine) and his knights, Galahad (Colin Firth), Lancelot (Jack Davenport), and the mastermind Merlin (Mark Strong). A pure fantasy. Behind the facade of a tailor shop in London is the organization’s high tech base, and rightly so, for a gentleman’s suit is his armour, and the Kingsmen are the new knights.
Firth’s dapper presence is a prime model showing off the bespoke tailoring. What you see on screen you can also get, a collaboration of the film’s costume designer Arianne Phillips and the online retailer Mr. Porter. A Kingsman brand of wardrobe and accessories is the exclusive product spinoffs. Fantasy meets reality.
Not just a fashion statement though. What Galahad Harry Hart tells the young recruit Eggsy (Taron Egerton), who comes from a seedy part of London, records of petty crimes under his belt, raised by a single mother with an abusive boyfriend, all subsequent to the early death of his father, a former Kingsman: “Being a Kingsman has nothing to do with the circumstances of one’s birth; if you’re prepared to adapt and learn, you can transform.” After thinking a bit, Eggsy responds, “Like My Fair Lady.” If there’s any mindful lesson one can glean from watching this seemingly mindless entertainment, here it is.
Back to the task at hand. The dual plot lines are tightly woven as we see Eggsy going through a demanding training and screening process, at the same time Hart has to deal with the high tech villain cum philanthropist Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson). Valentine sees mankind as a virus. He has developed the means to eradicate the pests, from a mind-controlling implant to a free-for-all SIM card through which he can activate, gleefully watching people kill off each other.
Comic book clarity, black and white, no shades of grey. While the plot may be formulaic, there are special effects and production designs that are fresh and captivating. I particularly like the tailor shop cum secret organization lair, with its underground passageways, and yes, the neat arrays of wardrobe accessories that are lethal weapons in disguise.
As an R-rated movie, some scenes are demanding of the viewers, and in the genre of action/adventure/comedy, graphic violence is prolific. The church scene may not sit well with some, albeit the explanation of the carnage is offered only after the very long and deadly sequence. Valentine is playing God to control their minds and impulses. Despite its flaws, which are easily covered by the quick change of scenes, overall it is a well-paced, well-acted, and stylish production.
Music is prominent in conveying the spectacle and thrills, as well as humour. I chuckle when I hear the British composer Edward Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance accompanying one of the explosive, climatic sequence at the end, the extravaganza of human heads turned fireworks, a good reminder and celebration of where all the fantasy of the gentleman spy originates.
As with a genre of this kind, the movie is not for everyone. If you can’t stand the sight of blood, or graphic violence, or hear the F word prolifically uttered, or are reluctant to let farcical surrealism override a rational mind, then maybe you’d like to stay home and attack your TBR pile of reads. Don’t bother flipping through the comic book either. As the bookstore clerk warned me when I asked about it, “It’s very graphic.”
And yet, the two hours of pure escapism has proven to be invigorating. I’m just about ready to get back to Proust.
~ ~ ~ Ripples