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Movie review 'Kingsman': Not your thrilling kind of spy caper

Published Feb 28, 2015, 2:55 pm IST
Updated Mar 29, 2019, 5:23 pm IST
Kingsman parodies spy thrillers, but is clever only in bits
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Cast: Colin Firth, Michael Caine, Samuel L. Jackson, Taron Egerton
Run time: 139 minutes
Rating: Two-and-a-half stars
A lisping megalomaniac villain and his pretty, deadly aide; a league of suave Brit spies; and their unconventional new recruit come together in the newest Hollywood release, Kingsman.
The story begins at a lonely chalet, where kidnappers are holding an eminent climate scientist prisoner. A mysterious Englishman nearly rescues the professor, before he is killed himself. The kidnappers’ boss is Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson), an evil billionaire genius and he’s aided by Gazelle (Sofia Boutella), a lovely young woman whose prosthetic blade legs are perfect for ripping apart (literally) the opposition. Valentine wants to find out who the Englishman was, but Gazelle tells him he doesn’t seem to belong to MI6, the CIA, KGB, Mossad or Beijing (at which Valentine cracks, “Beijing — how come knows the name of their secret service? That’s truly a secret service!”).
The audience, however, soon find out that the Englishman, codename Lancelot, is part of an independent spy organisation based in the UK. Set up by a group of wealthy men who lost their heirs during the World War II and wanted to use their considerable resources to do good for humanity, the Kingsmen are an elite group, whose members answer to the names of King Arthur’s court. Arthur, their head (Michael Caine) convenes a meeting: The post of Lancelot must be filled, and each member of the group must put forward a candidate.
His agent Galahad a.k.a Harry Hart (Colin Firth) is contacted for help by a young man called Eggsy (Taron Egerton) who is picked up by the cops for stealing a car. Seventeen years ago, Harry had given Eggsy, the son of a slain fellow agent, a medal with a secret number, with the injunction that he should call on him for help if he ever finds himself in trouble. Eggsy, living with his mum and a goon of a stepdad in less-than-pleasant circumstances, is talented. However, he’s on a downward spiral, when Harry reconnects with him and gets him out of prison. In the young man, he sees a potential Kingsman and offers him a chance to train with, and join the organisation.
While Eggsy finds a new purpose to life, Richmond Valentine has found a new direction for his, and the Kingsmen find themselves investigating the disappearances of several important personages and world leaders. As the plot unravels, it provides plenty of opportunities for the Kingsmen to show off their nifty gadgets (umbrellas — what could be more British? — that double up as both bulletproof shield and gun, signet rings that can stun an opponent, a cigarette lighter that is actually a grenade, a fountain pen that contains poison that can be remotely activated etc) and their niftier moves. It also depicts the developing bond between Harry and Eggsy. In one of the funnier scenes in the film, while Harry is trying to convince Eggsy that his less than favourable circumstances needn’t hold him back, he illustrates his point by naming a number of films in which the lead character has had a startling transformation: “Have you seen Trading Places? Nikita? Pretty Woman?” Eggsy replies in the negative and seems confused. Then, when Harry explains, “If you’re willing to adapt and learn, you can transform” Eggsy promptly asks, “You mean like in My Fair Lady?”
That exchange is an example of what’s good about Kingsman. It’s a farce, and mostly a fun one, but it’s also very aware of just what kind of movie it is. Plenty of dialogues allude to this, a sort of knowing wink on the part of the film. For instance, in an exchange between Valentine and Harry, Valentine asks if Harry likes spy movies. “Nowadays, they’re all a little serious for my taste. But the old ones... marvelous. Give me a far-fetched theatrical plot any day,” Harry replies. “The old Bond movies when I was a kid, that was my dream job: Gentleman spy,” says Valentine. Harry counters with: “I always felt that the old Bond films were as good as the villain. As a child, I rather fancied a futuristic colorful megalomaniac.” “What a shame we both had to grow up,” says Valentine.
The self-awareness — not just about itself, but the genre it is part of — is evident in yet another dialogue, this one between Eggsy and Arthur, the head Kingsman. In one of the training tasks, the Kingsmen recruits are required to select a puppy and care for it. Their final selection depends on them shooting the pup they nurtured (something the Nazis apparently made their young recruits do). When Arthur asks Eggsy what he’s named his puppy, Eggsy replies, “J.B.”. “As in James Bond? Jason Bourne?” Arthur guesses. “No, Jack Bauer,” says Eggsy.
Despite all its cleverness, more often than not, Kingsman falls short. There are jokes (especially one involving a Swedish princess and Eggsy, at the end) that could have been entirely avoided, and there are moments when the plot twists seem (unintentionally) hilarious. And you do wonder, if even within the genre of a parody, whether a film is allowed to have a villain who is more laughable than menacing.
But for all its flat moments and the surreal sequences that require a suspension of logic, Kingsman is a fun caper. Since it never professes to be more than what it is — a big joke — can you take it to task for not offering more?