Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017)

2017 #125
Matthew Vaughn | 141 mins | cinema | 2.39:1 | UK & USA / English | 15 / R

Kingsman: The Golden Circle

Critics, eh? There’s a lot you could say about them, both individually and en masse, but right now I’m concerned with the fact they’ve given Kingsman: The Golden Circle a Rotten Tomatoes score of just 50%.* More than that, many have gone further: I’ve read one-star reviews from several major outlets. Audiences disagree. On IMDb it’s got a very respectable 7.4 (just a few points down from the much better-received Wonder Woman, for comparison) and it topped the box office this past weekend, beating the latest LEGO movie in the US and almost doubling the first film’s opening weekend in the UK. Well, I’m definitely an audience member rather than a critic. In fact, I’m still weighing up the possibility that The Golden Circle might be even better than its predecessor.

I’ll return to both the critics and the two films’ relative merits later. For now, the obligatory plot summary: a year on from the events of the first movie, Eggsy (Taron Egerton) is a fully-fledged Kingsman agent and is dating Swedish princess Tilde (Hanna Alström). An encounter with former wannabe-Kingsman Charlie (Edward Holcroft) sets Eggsy on the trail of Poppy (Julianne Moore), a drugs kingpin with a ’50s Americana fetish and a plan for global domination. Eggsy and tech whizz Merlin (Mark Strong) travel to the US of A to team up with their sister organisation, Statesman, in a bid to stop Poppy’s nefarious scheme.

Magic us out of this one, Merlin

That’s the coy version of things — more coy than the trailers, certainly, which brazenly gave away major developments and revelations. (You’ll note my summary’s shortage of big-name stars, for example, who have been plastered all over the advertising.) Director Matthew Vaughn even asked the studio not to reveal one thing in the marketing — namely, that Colin Firth was back — but they went ahead and did it anyway. I know they had a movie to sell, but I’m not convinced they needed to ignore him on that. Actually, that connects to my first complaint about how critics have treated the film: those one-star major reviewers seemed to hate the film so much that they were happy to spoil bits left, right, and centre. No such disregard for the audience here (though there will be minor spoilers, if you’ve not seen it yet). Nonetheless, if you were one of those people who seemed to find the first film’s anal sex joke to be the most heinously offensive sin committed by cinema since The Birth of a Nation, maybe read a couple of those reviews for a benchmark if you’re undecided about seeing this sequel — it may also offend your delicate sensibilities for reasons I can only vaguely comprehend.

To me, The Golden Circle represents a commitment to being purely entertaining. It’s consistently funny and at times laugh-out-loud hilarious. The action sequences are crazily hyperkinetic to the nth degree. It mixes in all the classic spy movie shenanigans, like far-fetched plots and cool gadgets and exotic locales; but it also works to subvert, expose, or develop some of those things. Beyond that, however, it has surprisingly good character work for what could’ve been a mindless comedy shoot-em-up. I mean, Merlin’s arc… well, i said no spoilers. But the film also makes time to be concerned about Eggsy’s relationship and how his work might affect it. It’s almost a good subversion of the gentlemen-spy sleep-around stereotype, though the Glastonbury sequence rushes through that rather than meaningfully deconstructing it (more about that already-infamous scene later).

The Lepidopterist

Then there’s Harry’s return — not just a pleasant surprise, but an emotional minefield for our other heroes, who were still coming to terms with his demise. Now, some critics reckon that Harry’s revival lowers the stakes for the rest of the movie. Well, only if you choose to disregard the details of his return. OK, yes, there’s now a safety net in some scenarios; but a gel that slows the effect of a headshot isn’t much use if, say, you get blown to pieces. Also, the idea that Harry was “very much dead” is actually an assumption that’s not wholly supported by the first film. I mean, obviously it was implied that Harry is very much dead — that was the point at the time — but watch it again: you don’t actually see much detail of what happens, other than that Valentine shoots him somewhere in the head and he collapses to the ground. The scene ends almost immediately. Vaughn and co use this to their advantage, having the Statesman turn up with seconds of the shot being fired. Yeah, it’s still implausible, but then I don’t think people’s heads explode in choreographed light shows either, and that was a big part of The Secret Service.

Comparisons to that previous movie abound in other reviews, I guess because it went down well while this one, which is ostensibly more of the same, hasn’t. Also, to be fair, because the film itself is constantly making such references too. Consequently, some critics are focused on the idea that what The Golden Circle lacks is the freshness of the original. Well, personally, I enjoyed the first one more when I re-watched it a couple of days ago than when I first saw it back in 2015, so the “I’ve not seen that before” factor is not its defining quality for me. Nonetheless, this is the kind of sequel that’s somewhat derivative of its own predecessor, with many riffs on stuff you’ll remember from before. The most regularly repurposed is the famous church fight, though I’d argue that it’s taken the style of that sequence and then applied it to several more in this film, rather than merely producing an outright copy of what came before — something I would (and did) accuse, say, X-Men: Apocalypse’s Quicksilver sequence of doing (even though it tried to find fresh angles on the same basic concept).

Skipping rope in the snow

One particular way that half the action sequences feel like they’re deliberately riffing off / ripping off that church fight is that they’re set to pop songs, and often unexpected ones. It may be repeating a trick, but this use of music is consistently entertaining — I mean, hasn’t Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting always wanted a fight set to it? And the country-fied cover of Word Up for the finale is bang on. That’s not to mention the score by Henry Jackman and Matthew Margeson. I always liked the main theme from the first film, which is carried over here, along with effective action cues (for those times it goes without a pop song) and a neat integration of melodies from John Denver’s Take Me Home, Country Roads. That song is used to very particular effect at one point, and, listening to the soundtrack while writing this review, the bit of Mark Strong singing it that’s included did actually leave me with a little something in my eye — again, not what you expect from a film like Kingsman. Though I must clarify, that is due to the memory of the film, not the quality of Mr Strong’s singing, which is certainly… Scottish-accented. Something I didn’t notice particularly when watching the movie (and why would you on a first viewing?) is that those melodies are there right at the start, played on bagpipes and segueing into the opening theme. Cheeky foreshadowing beggars.

While there may be some dimension of merit to some of the criticisms I’ve referenced so far, others merit mention only to be ridiculed. I mean, one critic slagged off the fact that most (but not all) of Poppy’s scenes take place in one location, which must be the most ludicrous factor contributing to a film getting one star that I’ve ever read. Relatedly, that the big-name new cast members are given less focus than the returning characters seems to be a recurring sticking point. Well, what do you expect? In fact, what do you want? It’s like thinking the solution to Quantum of Solace’s woes was to spend less time with James Bond and more with Agent Fields. Plus, surely the fact that some prominently-billed new names turn out to be glorified cameos is more to do with the marketing overhyping them — as you do when you’ve got genuine movie stars in your movie — than the film itself fundamentally underserving them. Sure, I’d like more of Channing Tatum’s character too, but hey-ho; and it’s not like his limited screen time isn’t put to memorable effect, several times over. The same can be said for Julianne Moore and, arguably best of all, Elton John. They may reuse the same Elton gag a couple of times too often, but on the whole he has a surprisingly effective part to play. On the other hand, after “more Halle Berry” was something that eventually undermined the X-Men films, I’m fine with her role being kept to a minimum. Still, for everyone who wished for more of Tatum and co, there are already rumours of an extended cut coming to DVD and/or Blu-ray. Oh, but those critics moaned about it already being too long. There’s no pleasing some people…

More Tatum, less Berry

There is perhaps a case to be made that the film has bitten off more plot than it can comfortably chew. I’ve already said that some sequences feel a little too hasty, and there might be one big set piece too many — I assumed the film was about to head into its final act, before remembering we hadn’t had all the snowbound set pieces from the trailers yet. Personally, I didn’t mind this additional length — at no point did the film bore me. I’ll be more than happy if that extended cut does materialise. Perhaps the paciness despite the length is what led many critics to call it out for having too complex a plot, an accusation I find somewhat implausible. I can only assume they weren’t expecting to think at all and so almost literally turned their brains off, because this isn’t some intricate thriller, it’s a big action spy movie that moves pretty linearly from plot point to plot point. That’s not a criticism, just an observation.

And if you want to go the other way and overthink the film, some people do get very het up about what the political messages and affiliations of these two movies may or may not be. Now, I’m not going to argue they don’t have a political dimension — that would be a patently ludicrous position to take, given how much they both allude to real-world issues like climate change and the drug trade — but, allowing for that, I don’t think the films care what their political allegiance is. That’s how some people can manage to read a movie in which the working-class hero blows up the world’s conspiring elites in order to stop the common folk from massacring each other as nothing but a right-wing fantasy, and how other people can manage to read a movie in which an unaccountable intelligence organisation gentrifies a lower-class kid to make him worth something, before blowing up an environmentalist and President Obama, as proletariat wish-fulfilment. Both of those describe The Secret Service, but there are elements in the sequel that have the same effect — this time, it’s your stance towards the war on drugs and how we deal with addicts that is being prodded.

View to a kill

All of that said, the more I’ve thought about the film afterwards (as you do, especially if you’re going to, say, write a review for a blog or something), the more some issues do begin to become apparent. While I don’t inherently object to the Glastonbury sequence (I’d wager it in part exists as another way for Vaughn to thumb his nose at critics of certain parts of the first movie, and he got ’em too), I do think there were cleverer ways to handle it. Vaughn has said that sequence is meant to be about having to do something you don’t want to do for the sake of your job, but that doesn’t wholly explain the teenage smuttiness of how it plays out. I mean, wouldn’t it be funnier if Eggsy felt he had to stick to his principles and find a way to clumsily shove his finger up Clara’s nose? Then phone Tilde back: “It’s okay babe, I only put it up her nose.” “You did what?!”

So yeah, it’s not a perfect movie. But, at least while it was on, I was having way too much fun to care. If you’re the kind of person who found something (or lots of things) about the first movie offensive to your moral fibre, chances are slim that you’ll like this sequel. Conversely, if you’re the kind of person who misses ’90s lads-mag culture, you’ll bloody love it, mate. For those of us somewhere on the (very broad) spectrum between those two points, other reviews make it clear that it’s not to everyone’s taste, but it was very much to mine. The niggles I’ve mentioned have led me to give it a lower score than the first film, but I reserve the right to change my mind as soon as I get a chance to rewatch it — I can envision myself ultimately revisiting The Golden Circle more regularly than The Secret Service.

4 out of 5

Kingsman: The Golden Circle is in cinemas most places now, and in the other places soon.

It placed 15th on my list of The 17 Best Films I Saw For the First Time in 2017, which can be read in full here.

* At time of writing. It was 49% on Saturday and 51% on Sunday, so it might be different again by the time you read this. ^

2015 In Retrospect

2015 was, as I’m sure you’ve gathered, the largest ever year of 100 Films — or 200 Films in a Year, as it’s currently known. For 2015 only, I think, because I have no intention of trying to replicate that feat next year (see here for more on that topic).

How better to finally wrap up a year than with a look at the best and worst, right? As always, my picks are not culled from films freshly released in 2015, but from this list of my personal viewing. (For what it’s worth, that list includes 22 releases from 2015, as well as 37 from 2014, some of which others would count as 2015 titles… and some of them have indeed made my best-of list.)

You can also vote for your favourites from my pick, and find out which 50 most noteworthy new films I didn’t see. There might be a few surprise along the way, too.

So without further ado…



The Five Worst Films I Saw For the First Time in 2015

In alphabetical order…

Avengers Confidential: Black Widow & Punisher
Marvel may dominate the live-action superhero arena right now, but DC has the edge in animation — and work like this is going to do nothing to change that. An uninteresting story that’s blandly told in every regard, this is a total waste of time.

Blitz
There are a lot of very, very good actors in this Jason Statham vehicle, but it’s a terrible film that’s even below standard for the star, let alone his supporting cast. So bad it feels like a spoof, there is no good reason for anyone to watch this movie.

Jack the Giant Slayer
X-Men’s Bryan Singer is the latest filmmaker to take a fairytale and give it the Lord of the Rings treatment. That formula doesn’t work here, unfortunately. The result is a flat, cheap-looking, overlong bore. Another waste of good talent.

Parabellum
Alfred Hitchcock once said that “movies are real life with the boring parts cut out.” I guess this isn’t a movie, then, because it’s not real life and it’s boring as can be. My least enjoyable viewing experience this year.

Runner Runner
Again, talented stars (Ben Affleck, Gemma Arterton) slum it in a poorly-constructed thriller with no thrills. That it’s from the director of The Lincoln Lawyer, an excellent thriller that made my top ten a couple of years ago, only makes matters worse.



The Ten 20 Best Films I Saw For the First Time in 2015

Given the extraordinary personal achievement in my viewing this year — doubling my titular goal — I’ve decided to also double my year-end top ten. It seemed appropriate.

Obviously I haven’t done such a percentage-related increase (or reduction) of my list before now, but then no previous year has seen quite so remarkable a change in my viewing total. In other (smaller) years, these additional films may well have made the cut, so this is a way of giving them their due. (Besides which, my list is numbered, so you can ignore #20 to #11 if you want.)

Final point: although this list isn’t limited to 2015 releases, there are six included, so I’ve noted their ‘2015 rank’ too.

2015 #6 After all the behind-the-scenes kerfuffle, Ant-Man probably had the lowest audience expectations for any Marvel Studios movie since Iron Man. Perhaps that’s what allowed it to become the mostly purely entertaining Marvel movie since Iron Man, too.

The Mission series here reconfigures itself as the modern equivalent to classic Bond, washing down espionage thrills with gadgets and humour. The result is fantastically enjoyable, and only so low on this list because of a certain other film a bit higher up…

John Cusack and Minnie Driver have never been more likeable as a guy and the prom date he jilted, brought back together by their high school reunion. Oh, and he’s now a hitman, in town on a job. Consitently funny, this is first-rate action-comedy entertainment.

An idiosyncratic crime drama from writer-director Jim Jarmusch, Ghost Dog stands alongside the otherwise-peerless Léon as a hitman movie that may not deliver enough action thrills for some, but is seeped in distinctive qualities of its own.

Martin Scorsese’s best-regarded works may hew towards the mainstream-intellectual, but here he sets his sights on genre material — specifically, a psychological mystery thriller — and produces a corker. Heavily Gothic in tone, it’s the first of several such films on this list.

A British-made India-set ‘Western’, this beautifully shot Boy’s Own adventure is rollicking old-fashioned entertainment from start to finish. It’s buoyed further by a cast of top-drawer British character actors, topped off with Kenneth More and Lauren Bacall. Magnificent.

One of the most acclaimed films of all time — if we’re talking “the history of cinema”, it’s certainly more important than anything else on this list. Almost 90 years old, it remains surprisingly accessible to modern eyes. An exceptionally affecting experience.

2015 #5 In a year overloaded with spy thrillers, this Bond pastiche stood out by, a) getting in early (it was released last January in the UK), and b) being a helluva lot of fun. Thematically questionable it may be, but the filmmaking verve is a joy to behold.

2015 #4 2015’s highest grossing film, this sequel/reboot of the beloved franchise has proved somewhat divisive. It certainly has flaws in characters and plot, but director Colin Trevorrow has bottled genuine Spielbergian awe and wonder, and that counts for a lot.

If this were only a top ten, I’d’ve slipped this in higher up, as much to recommend it as anything. In many respects it’s a familiar mismatched-people-fall-in-love rom-com (hence why its position dropped), but the uncommon melancholic tone makes it feel unique.

I’d wager it’s impossible to describe a Wes Anderson film without recourse to words like “quirky” and “unique”, both wholly apt epithets for The Grand Budapest Hotel, naturally. Others include hilarious, clever, inventive, controlled, and delightful. The last may be the most appropriate of all: this is a film full of delights, from the performances, to the dialogue, to the locations, to the design, to the camerawork. Anderson is the kind of filmmaker who has a cult following, which can sometimes be a bad omen. Based on this evidence, his fandom might just have the right idea.

2015 #3 There has been an awakening — have you felt it? Well, of course you have. Everyone outside of China has. Half of them twice. The J.J. Abrams-led return to a galaxy far, far away may have received a mixed reception, due to it essentially being the cinematic equivalent of a greatest-hits cover album, dealing in nostalgia more than it does originality… but it’s clearly been made by fans with an eye to crafting something that’s both enjoyable and recognisably Star Wars-y — two balls the prequel trilogy less dropped, more hurled to the ground. It’s a thrilling adventure with likeable new characters and, in my opinion, interesting new villains. There’s scope for the makers of Episodes VIII and IX to produce something even better off the back of this, and that’s exciting.

Terry Gilliam’s 1984 for 1985 is set in a dystopian Britain almost as bad as our current one, where mindless, faceless bureaucracy rules the day. It’s the kind of film where a typo can lead to a man’s death; where Jonathan Pryce fantasises about being a sword-wielding angel fighting a giant silver samurai; and where Robert De Niro turns up as a terrorist plumber. You know, if Wes Anderson is “quirky” and “unique”, I don’t think we’ve yet invented words to describe Terry Gilliam…

I promised you more Gothic and here it is. Director Chan-wook Park places 7th on my top ten for the second year in a row with this dark psychological thriller about a reclusive teenage girl who meets her uncle for the first time when he comes to stay following her father’s death. He’s charming, but mysterious — what are the secrets that everyone seems to know but her? Dripping with style and atmosphere, Stoker is a feast for the eyes and ears; a beguiling, sensuous, classically Gothic thriller.

2015 #2 Director George Miller returns to the Mad Max series after a 30-year hiatus for the stand-out action movie of… well, “the year” seems to undersell it. Once upon a time he was bold enough to make a chase the entire third act of a film; now, the chase is the entire movie. This is action filmmaking elevated to a genuine art form — literally, if the award season buzz is anything to go by. While the done-for-real stunts are busy boggling your mind, there slips by a story that’s surprisingly rich in theme and character. It gives added weight to a type of storytelling that could only be achieved on film — there’s a reason Miller started with a storyboard and only bothered to write a screenplay when the studio insisted.

A third dose of Gothic now, this time with a heavier dose of the “horror” element that’s so often attached to the term. Gemma Arterton and Saoirse Ronan are mother-and-daughter vampires on the run, hiding out in a seedy seaside town, where Ronan tries to lead some kind of normal life as a perma-teen while her mother’s busy doing what she’s always done: whoring. These vampires aren’t glamorous or sparkly, but damaged and discarded. Byzantium is not a very popular film, but its tarnished charms and fatalistic stylings, powered by two strong central performances and atmospheric direction, made me love it.

Selecting these 20 films was tough, then putting them in order was just as hard, but one thing was a lock from the start: these are my top four films I saw in 2015. The only question was the order they went in, which on another day may have been completely different — any one of them could’ve been #1. This little-seen documentary (Channel 4 premiered it in the middle of the night a few months ago, although it’s available on YouTube) takes us to a small, poor town in India where the locals make their own movies, and they’re a roaring success. It’s an inspirational film about living your dreams even when the world won’t let you, though undercurrents of reality stop it from becoming too tweely self-congratulatory. I’m not overstating it when I say I believe this is an absolute must-see for any lover of film, and probably a good many people besides.

I feel like I’m being in some way Awkward with many of this year’s choices, because there’s a notable strand of films that aren’t particularly well regarded by viewers en masse (see: #11, #7, #5, now #3). Well, I’m not being awkward, dear reader: I loved all of them, and I loved this one most of all. Like several of those others, it crafts a unique mood with lashings of style, in this case inspired by ’80s movies and music. Dan Stevens is a mysterious ex-soldier who enters a family’s life and brings a load of trouble in his wake, but is he (anti-)hero or villain? Even by the end, you might not be sure. Witty, exciting, stylish, idiosyncratic, this is one guest I want to stay forever. (Sorry — it seems I can’t end any piece about this film without a terrible pun.)

34 years before Fury Road, there was The Road Warrior. A post-apocalyptic Australian Western, it sees Mel Gibson’s titular drifter drafted into defending an oil-rich community from a violent gang of fetish-attired marauders. While the film has much to offer throughout, the real joy is the third act: a balls-to-the-wall multi-vehicle chase, as Max and co attempt to escape in a heavily-armoured oil tanker and the gang give chase in a fleet of vehicles. Maybe it’s not as slick or extravagant as Fury Road, but it was done without a lick of CGI (for all Fury Road’s “done for real” claims, there’s an awful lot of computer work across that movie) and that added tangibility gives it the edge for me. Not to mention that it did it first — without Mad Max 2, we wouldn’t even have Fury Road.

2015 #1 Not as life-affirming as Supermen of Malegaon. Not as stylish as The Guest. Not as groundbreaking as Mad Max 2. Certainly not as ‘significant’ as a host of films further down this list. But from the moment the familiar beats of the famous theme tune begin to pulse over the company idents at the top of the movie, Rogue Nation engages you in a perfectly-crafted entertainment. It delivers sequence after sequence of finely-tuned action-thriller excitement, both from Tom Cruise’s crazy stuntwork and writer-director Christopher McQuarrie’s Hitchcockian control of espionage scenes. The plot may only be solid rather than any great shakes, but it’s supported by likeable heroes, a menacing villain, and well-pitched humour. It’s all topped off with Rebecca Ferguson, who could hold her own in a stand-off with Daisy Ridley and Charlize Theron for 2015’s most kick-ass heroine. Mission perfected.


As ever, I welcome your opinion on my top ten — not just in the comments section, but also in the form of a lovely poll. Multiple selections are allowed, so feel free to pick several favourites.

And if you feel I’ve made an unforgivable omission, I welcome your scathing criticisms in the comments.


Despite doubling the size of my selection, this was still a really, really tough year for picking favourites. Competition was harder than ever, not just because I watched 200 films (47% more than even my next biggest year) but because I made a conscious effort to watch fewer time-killers and more things I’d really been intending to see. As a result, films that I enjoyed immensely or admired intensely fell by the wayside, leaving several big guns to duke it out for the limited slots.

As if doubling my top ten wasn’t enough, the tightly-fought race got stuck for a while at 30 titles. The closest to making it in was my 1,000th film, Mark Cousin’s epic 15-hour documentary The Story of Film: An Odyssey (so epic that my review draft is still in the form of 4,300 words of notes). It hurt to leave it out, but something had to go. The remainder of those 30 (which I guess would be #22 to #30, then) were, in alphabetical order, The Babadook, Gone Girl, High Noon, Looper, Paddington, Scanners, Spectre, Stranger by the Lake, and Wings. In most other years, any of those could’ve found themselves comfortably in my top ten.

I can’t end this without mentioning the 38 films that earned themselves 5-star ratings this year. 17 of them made it into the top 20 — I won’t list those again, so you can go find the three four-star imposters for yourself (clue: they’re right at the end… or start, in the order I’ve written it). The remaining 21 five-starers were Argo, The Babadook, Boyhood, Boyz n the Hood, Dreams of a Life, Filmed in Supermarionation, Fury, The General, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Gone Girl, High Noon, Interstellar, Looper, The Philadelphia Story, sex, lies, and videotape, Shallow Grave, The Story of Film: An Odyssey, Stranger by the Lake, Whiplash, Wings, and The Wrestler. Reading through those again, there are several I feel should’ve been in my top 30… or 20… but what would I take out in their place? This year’s been too good, clearly.

Finally, on the same topic, there was one five-starer from each of my additional kinds of reviews (I love it when that happens — so neat). They were: non-list review 2001: A Space Odyssey, extended cut X-Men: Days of Future Past – The Rogue Cut, and short Feast.


Naturally, there were a considerable number of notable releases this year that I’ve yet to see. In my annual tradition, here’s an alphabetical list of 50 films — chosen for a variety of reasons, from box office success to critical acclaim via simple notoriety — that were released in 2015 and that I’ve not seen.

As is so often the case, it’s a funny old mix, because there were some films that seemed too ‘significant’ to leave out. This is why, despite recording my progress with these in my statistics every year, I’ll never, ever see 100% of them. For a current example, Minions is the 5th highest grossing film of 2015, so on the list it goes; but I didn’t really like Despicable Me and haven’t watched Despicable Me 2, so what are the chances I’ll ever decide to spend some of my time on Minions? Pretty darn slim, I reckon.

Anyway, the 50 I’ve chosen to highlight — some of which I do very much want to see — are…

Amy
Beasts of No Nation
The Big Short
Black Mass
Blackhat
Bridge of Spies
Brooklyn
Carol
Chappie
Cinderella
Creed
Crimson Peak
The Danish Girl
Everest
Ex Machina
Fantastic Four
Fifty Shades of Grey
Furious 7
The Good Dinosaur
The Hateful Eight
Home
Hotel Transylvania 2
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2
In the Heart of the Sea
It Follows
Joy
Legend
Macbeth
The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
The Martian
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
Minions
Pan
Pixels
The Revenant
Room
San Andreas
The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Sicario
Snoopy and Charlie Brown…
Spotlight
Spy
Steve Jobs
Straight Outta Compton
Suffragette
Taken 3
Ted 2
Testament of Youth
The Visit
The Walk


And so, after all that verbosity, the largest ever year of 100 Films comes to an end.

Apart from the 21 reviews I still have to post, of course. (In that respect, 2014 isn’t even finished yet.) But no matter, it will be done.

For now, all that remains is for me to thank you for reading, to wish you all the best with your own film-watching endeavours (having spent several days shut away in my own world of statistics and lists, I’ve a few people’s posts to catch up on!), and to say “see you soon” for 2016 — the 10th year of 100 Films! I have some stuff planned…

Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015)

2015 #76
Matthew Vaughn | 129 mins | Blu-ray | 2.39:1 | UK / English | 15* / R

Kingsman: The Secret ServiceThe team behind Kick-Ass bring that same reverent irreverence to the spy genre in this comedy-action-thriller that aims to bring the fun of ’60s/’70s spy-fi back to a genre that’s become oh so serious.

Developed alongside the Mark Millar/Dave Gibbons comic book The Secret Service, Matthew Vaughn’s film casts Colin Firth as Harry Hart, an agent for an independent intelligence operation, Kingsman, who recruits council estate kid Eggsy (Taron Egerton), the son of a fallen comrade, into the group’s elite training programme. As Eggsy battles tough training challenges and the snobbery of his Oxbridge-sourced competitors, Harry investigates suspicious tech mogul Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson), who is secretly kidnapping people of importance and publicly giving away free SIM cards to everyone on the planet, but for what nefarious purpose?

There are several things going on in Kingsman that make it a uniquely entertaining proposition, especially in the current blockbuster climate. Part of the setup is “My Fair Lady with gentlemen spies”, as chavvy Eggsy is reshaped to be an old-fashioned besuited gent, inspired by the story of how Dr. No director Terence Young took a rough young Scottish chap called Sean Connery under his wing and taught him how to dress and behave as a gentlemen in preparation for his star-making role as the original superspy. It’s one of those ideas that you wonder why no one thought of developing into a fiction sooner. It could have come across as datedly classist, but Vaughn and co-screenwriter Jane Goldman nail it as a 21st Century character arc: being a gentlemen is not about speaking correctly or lording it over the lower classes, but about a universal level of good behaviour, politeness, and doing the right thing. It successfully and acutely dodges any potential accusations of classism.

Classy mealAn even bigger part of the film’s triumph, and what likely led it to over $400 million worldwide in spite of its higher-than-PG-13 classifications (it’s Vaughn’s highest-grossing film to date, incidentally; even more so than his X-Men instalment), is that it takes the ever-popular James Bond formula and brings it up to date. However much you might love Casino Royale and Skyfall (and I do), the Bourne influence is undeniable. They’re not Bond movies in the same mould as the Connery and Moore movies that established the franchise’s enduring popularity around the globe; they’re modern thrillers, faithful in their way to Ian Fleming’s creation, but also zeitgeisty. Vaughn and co have looked at the DNA of those ’60s and ’70s Bond classics and given them a fresh lick of paint. So we have just-beyond-possible gadgets, a megalomaniacal supervillain, complete with epic mountain base, his own personal army, a physical tic, a uniquely-gifted almost-superhuman henchwoman, and a tongue-in-cheek tone that isn’t all-out spoof but lets you know no one believes any of this could actually happen and that’s OK.

Despite the overall tone of modern blockbusters, I don’t think the appetite for movies like this ever went away; or if it did, it quite quickly made a resurgence: a similar itch has been scratched in recent years by superhero movies, especially the Marvel ones. Audiences — or, perhaps, studio execs — seem currently more ready to accept outlandish action sequences, melodramatic stakes, and an occasionally-humorous tone if they were dressed up in colourful suits and pitched in the realm of sci-fi/fantasy, A little swimrather than the supposed real-world universe of spy movies. What the worldwide success of Kingsman proves is that audiences don’t need the set-dressing of superpowers to accept an action movie that’s less than deadly serious. It’s a place I don’t think the Bond movies could go anymore — not without accusations of returning to the disliked Moore or late-Brosnan films — but it’s one many people clearly like, and Kingsman fulfils it.

Another clever move by Vaughn and co was to aim it at adults. Every blockbuster is PG-13 these days to keep the box office high, but Kingsman shows you can cut loose and still make good money. By specifically setting out to make an R-rated version of the classic Bond formula, everything gets ramped up to 11. On the one hand, that earns the controversy of That Joke in the final act (as Vaughn has said, not wrongly, it’s a variation on the classic Bond film finale; Mark Strong’s Merlin even closes his videoscreen, Q-style), but on the other it allows for crazed action sequences. The (faked-)single-take church massacre has to be seen to be believed; a highly-choreographed orgy of violence that is a marvellous assault on the senses, demonstrating the benefits of clear camerawork and highly-trained professional stunt- and effects-people over fast-cut close-up ShakyCam handwavery. Later on, a certain sequence set to Land of Hope and Glory would be inconceivable in any other movie. Things like this perfectly demonstrate why the world needs these less-than-serious kinds of film: they let creativity loose, crafting moments and sequences that are exciting, funny, unique, and memorable.

The first rule of Fight Church...Criticisms of the film tend to pan out to nought, in my opinion. Is there too much violence? There’s a lot, certainly, but part of the point of that church sequence (for instance) is just how long it goes on. Other excellent action sequences (the pub fight you might’ve seen in clips; the car chase in reverse gear; the skydiving) aren’t predicated on killing. Similarly, Samuel L. Jackson’s baseball-capped lisping billionaire is a perfect modern riff on the traditional Bond villain, not some kind of attack on Americans or people with speech impediments. Some have even attempted a political reading of the film, arguing it’s fundamentally conservative and right-wing because the villain is an environmentalist. Again, I don’t think the film really supports such an interpretation. In fact, I think it’s completely apolitical — just like its titular organisation, in fact — and such perspectives are being entirely read into it by the kind of people who read too much of this kind of thing into everything.

If there’s any fault, it’s perhaps in an overabundance of ideas. One fewer training sequence might’ve been better — but then, which would you lose? Based on the trailer, some scenes were cut as it is (sadly there’s no deleted scenes section on the Blu-ray), and the film doesn’t really outstay its welcome. For me, it wasn’t as balls-to-the-wall revolutionary as Kick-Ass and, when we have actually had lighter-toned action films in the past few years, it doesn’t reconstruct its genre quite as much as Vaughn and Goldman’s adaptation of Stardust did for fantasy.

Secret SocietyNot everything hinges on being wall-to-wall groundbreaking, though, and Kingsman has so much to recommend it. It ticks all the requisite boxes of being exciting and funny, and some of its sequences are executed breathtakingly. The plot may move along familiar tracks — deliberately so — but it pulls out a few mysteries and surprises along the way. There’s an array of likeable performances, particularly from Firth, Egerton (sure to get a lot of work off the back of this), Jackson and Strong, and Sofia Boutella’s blade-legged henchwoman is yet another why-has-no-one-done-that great idea.

I’m more than happy for the Bond series to carry on down its current, serious-minded path, but I’m ever so glad Kingsman has come along to provide the level of pure entertainment and unabashed fun that series used to do so well. If they can keep this quality up, may there be many sequels.

5 out of 5

Kingsman: The Secret Service is released on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK today, and the US tomorrow.

It placed 13th on my list of The 20 Best Films I Saw For the First Time in 2015, which can be read in full here.

* During editing, the BBFC advised the film would receive an 18 certificate unless changes were made. The submitted version was classified 15. Normally such edits are applied globally (despite what some websites like to claim), but this has been a less clear case: vastly different running times were posted by the BBFC and their German equivalent, but Vaughn stated in an interview that nothing was cut for the UK. Now, the UK and US Blu-rays have identical running times, so it seems likely he was (unsurprisingly) telling the truth. Another “the UK version is cut!” storm in a teacup? Yessir. ^