This isn’t that kind of movie. Kingsman: The Secret Service is very aware of how much it owes to the likes of James Bond and others, but it also clearly points out that it isn’t that kind of movie. At first, it may be hard to tell the difference. After all, it has the gadgets, it has the well-tailored suits, it has the gentleman spy, it has the megalomaniac villain with plans of global destruction (or redemption, depending on whether or not you buy into his rationalization), so yes, it seems to be very much like some of those other movies. The difference, however, is the extremes to which Kingsman goes at times with both its violent content and with some of its dark humor. There were a few time when those extremes just made me plain uncomfortable, and despite being a favorite genre of mine for how entertaining I find it, there were times where this particular spy movie just wasn’t entertaining because of how extreme and dark it was. Most of that was played for laughs and for fun, but it most definitely was not how I felt, and despite my love for classic James Bond movies, this was definitely not that kind of movie.
In truth, I enjoyed much of the film right up till about the mid-way point when we first see the bad guy’s plans put into action during a “test” run, which is done at a church. Now, I know this church was intended to be a caricature of the Westboro Baptist Church extreme, but I think there was more going on in this portrayal. It really kind of felt like this film was saying “if you’re going to test out something that will allow people to unleash their hate and anger without any inhibition, naturally, the best place to test that would be in a place that’s anti-gay, anti-abortion, anti-sex, anti-Democrat, entirely judgmental and etc., because obviously a place like that must be filled with barely suppressed hate.” It’s far from a positive portrayal of the Church, and perhaps rightly so, because of the Westboros and others who have admittedly given the Church a bad reputation. From what was said in this crazy church to what takes place during the “test” run and just how extreme all of that is, it was the turning point in the film where I suddenly started to feel very uncomfortable and not entertained at all. I’ll be the first to admit the Church has its flaws, but this portrayal of it seemed particularly harsh, bleak, uninformed, and unfair. Granted, it is from a graphic novel, so perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise that this was an extreme caricature, but it made me uncomfortable nonetheless.
It’s interesting because this extremely uncomfortable scene comes not long after the film delivers a rather profound truth. In trying to explain what it means to be a gentlemen, one character explains that it has nothing to do with the circumstances of our birth (i.e. class or status) but has everything to do with who we decide to become. In short, nobility isn’t in being superior to your fellow man but rather, in being superior to your former self. Well that sounded very profound, but the question remains “how do we change? How can we improve, truly improve from the inside out?” We can put on all the stylish suits we want, but if our core character doesn’t change, what does it matter how we look? In one sense, this film is completely correct in its assessment that anyone can be better and become a true gentleman or lady, but as to the source of that change, it falls short. The suggestion that we can accomplish that all on our is in error. In fact, the film undercuts its own assertion by showing just how easy it is to manipulate people into being anything but noble. It purports that we can achieve higher through our own character while at the same time, showing just how depraved the character of humanity is. Still, it’s not wrong in saying we can be superior and leave our former selves behind; we just need a little help. That’s where Jesus Christ comes in. He accomplishes for us what we can’t accomplish on our own; namely, making us someone new, someone better, someone nobler.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV
So, in a way, I suppose this movie is absolutely right; if you truly want to change, you do have to become a Kingsman. However, you just need to be sure you’re following the right King.
There’s no denying that Kingsman has a fun, kinetic visual style. Indeed, some of the scenes here are the best action sequences I’ve seen on screen since John Wick. Along with the sharp action, the film also has a sharp wit. It’s genuinely funny in parts and uncomfortably so in other parts. Finally, this a film that obviously has a lot of respect for the films that have preceded it and to which it owes its existence. There are some fun homages not only to James Bond but fun call outs to other stand-outs in the spy genre, including a brilliant call-out to Get Smart, which is about the last thing I’d thought I’d hear but was so glad it was included. Unfortunately, for all the fun action and great humor, the film dives into to some pretty extreme territory not only in the way the violence is portrayed but also with its darker humor. Personally, I would have enjoyed the film more thoroughly had some of that been trimmed and toned down a bit. However, then it wouldn’t be as true to its source material, and some of it does serve the story quite well (some does not and is just gratuitous). I started out with such high hopes for Kingsman, and while it does deliver exactly what it promises, it does so with such an edge and at times to such an extreme degree that the film quickly went from being an exciting guilty pleasure to just being uncomfortable and making me feel guilty for even thinking that such things could be “entertaining.” It stays true to its source and its creator’s intent but went places that I, in good taste, just could not follow.