I really liked the song “Money for Nothing,” by Dire Straits, and if you’re judging me right now, go read Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker series and tell me you don’t inexplicably like them as well.
I suddenly really like that song all over again. And I nominate the opening credits of Kingsmen as some of the slickest, prettiest and action-packed of all time. I think there was more pretty and shiny and actiony in the first minute and a half than there has been in a lot of movies that claim to be actiony and shiny.
Pew Pew Pow Pow
The movie remains slick and interesting throughout. When well-choreographed actions sequences aren’t happening, you get to marvel in the fact that this guy is 54 years old and looks like he could play Neo in the British adaptation of the Matrix.
And Mark Hamill can be his Morpheus.
What is it about the British accent that makes everything they say seem both cool and important.
The movie is slick, packed with balletic and clean and easy to follow action and serious subtext. I had to get a better sense of whether the depth of the movie is intentional or not. I looked up the movie, and I found out it was directed and produced by Matthew Vaughn. I thought, who the fuck is Matthew Vaughn. Then I saw he also did Kick-Ass, Snatch, and Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels.
I wondered if I wanted to admit to you that I didn’t know or remember who he was. Then I saw he also did Stardust. I momentarily hung my head in shame and swore this sort of thing would never happen again. So he gets full benefit of the doubt.
Until he produces another Swept Away.
Final verdict: This is flawed but fucking spectacular, and minus some troubling British casual sexism that I’m too giddy with today’s gay marriage verdict to take on, it manages to go deeper than many action films do into subtext and political discussion. In a small way I’m tempted to say it’s in the same class as Mad Max: Fury Road. Not as refined and confident, but nonetheless slick, pretty and with some depth.
But then we get to this shit.
Go watch the movie and then come back and read the rest.
Seriously, it will be meaningless to you otherwise and you’ll just spoil it.
What the hell is this shit? A lampoon of a foaming at the mouth southern minister spewing out every racial epithet in the book before Firth’s character, Galahad, kills everyone in the church in a wet spray of ultra-violence. What’s the point of this? Yeah, there’s a plot-driven reason for why this is happening, but how the everloving fuck does it advance the plot?
Okay, so the cross between Mike Tyson and Steve Jobs turns on his hypno-ray to make everybody in the church go Lord of the Flies on bath salts and Galahad kills everybody. It this some limey’s escapist fantasy to confront what they see as the evils of fundamentalist Christianity? I’m pissed off at bigots who use religion to dress up their mysanthropy, but I want to see them humiliated and forced to confront their ignorance, not snapped in half by a church pew.
Afterwards, Valentine shoots Galahad in the head and laments the action to his assistant. She responds, “You just killed a whole church full of people.”
He says, “No. They killed each other.”
Manipulating others to self destruct doesn’t bother him, but actually getting his hands dirty does.
Add to that another not-so-underlying theme of the movie, aristocracy and privilege, and it seems like they’re trying to make a finer point.
Valentine is the crazy megalomaniac who thinks that his path justifies all of the collateral damage he engineers, but he doesn’t want to take part in the machinations to the point that he has to confront the violence in himself.
So what are the take-aways? Commoner spies-in-training have a heart that aristocracy lacks. Corporations plow forward by forcing and manipulating others to do the dirty work.
Studies have been done that demonstrate some sort of correlation between money and lack of empathy. And the phenomenon of shared responsibility allows human beings to commit atrocities they wouldn’t otherwise commit because they rationalize by placing the blame elsewhere. Nazi soldiers are just following orders, and Goebbels isn’t actually getting his hands dirty. Construction workers plow the rain forest because if they don’t somebody else will, and McDonald’s corporate officers can pretend they’re somehow helping third world countries civilize and modernize.
And perhaps we’re forced to sympathize with the church parishioners when we were just recoiling in disgust at them–or maybe someone really hates southern baptists.
And it can also be said that we were opened up by the bloodbath and made to emotionally reel so that when — is so quickly killed, the audience reaction will be that much more intense.
But there is so much more to these issues than that, more nuance, and the movie isn’t capable of working with that. So the real questions might be, should it try, and is it better to flirt with the ideas in a heavy-handed way in an action movie or not broach it at all?
We see this hateful caricature of religion and life in the midwest and then that hate is REALLY overshadowed by the manipulation to violence by an inappropriately squeamish caricature of wealth black businessmen. The businessman is disgusted by his individual act of violence when he’s totally comfortable with what he just made happen in the church. We see this and we get a broader view of what is so wrong with Valentine’s perspective. He himself sees a caricature of the oversimplification of “people,” and that’s the most that’s really possible for people that are so wealthy and powerful that they can’t hope to understand what the real world is like. He lacks nuance and any willingness to engage in self-reflection.
Then there’s this
Remember those pretty lights? I felt like I was watching an episode of Looney Toons written by Hunter S Thompson literally blowing off the heads of every rich and/or powerful person who signed on to Valentine’s dastardly plan (and that seemed to be just about everybody, including President Obama AND the Queen, so at least they’re balanced in that regard.) Somebody really dislikes the rich.
So instead of forcing all of the plebians, philistines, and Philip J Frys to murder eachother, all of the rich turn into a psychedelic fireworks display. I’m reminded a little bit of Clockwork Orange in the zeal for violence. This movie does work hard to acquire some of the same weight, and I think it succeeds to enough of a degree to take it seriously.