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What to Watch in May: Kingsman

Director: Matthew Vaughn

Screenplay: Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn

Cast: Colin Firth, Taron Egerton, Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Caine, Mark Strong  

Action, Adventure, Comedy

129 min, R-rating


Loosely based on the comic book series The Secret Service (2012), director Matthew Vaughn teams up once again with screenwriter Jane Goldman (previous collaborations include Kick-Ass and X-Men: First Class) to deliver an edgy and brazen ode to spy movies in the tempo of over-the-top action sequences and snarky pop cultural references. Having grown up with his widowed mother and her abusive new husband in a working-class London suburb, Gary ‘Eggsy’ Unwin (Egerton) is offered a chance by Harry Hart (Firth), a friend of his later father, to join the underground secret service called Kingsman – if he manages to eliminate all his competitors vying for the job through a succession of rigorous training and life-threatening missions. At the same time, members of the elite around the world are disappearing one by one and it’s up to Eggsy and the agents of Kingsman, led by Chester King (Caine), to solve the mystery and find its connection to billionaire philanthropist and media mogul, Richmond Valentine (Jackson).     

In the cinematic age of action heroes, Kingsman’s plot is unapologetically predictable and overdone, relying instead on shock value and self-mockery to keep the audience on their toes; the scene where Hart and Valentine discuss the ridiculousness of the 007 films over Big Macs is perhaps intertextuality at its finest. Jordan Hoffman from The Guardian describes the film as emanating “sheer glee, as if no one involved in the production can believe they’re getting away with making such a batshit Bond” or its now iconic controversial scenes (like, you know, the one involving a rural church and a very ungentlemanly Firth), which are nothing short of pushing the limits of social conservatives and right-wing media critics. The star-studded cast’s performance, in addition to the cinematography, is definitely the highlight of the film – newcomer Egerton is believable, though rather unmemorable – with Jackson’s portrayal of the eccentric villain and Firth’s suave, but compassionate mentor, stealing much of the spotlight. The female leads of Kingsman, Eggsy’s rival at the organisation, Roxy (Sophie Cookson), and Valentine’s henchwoman Gazelle (Sofia Boutella), both prove that women can also hold their own in a fight, and the film indeed attempts to show signs of progressiveness by questioning certain gender stereotypes.

But while Kingsman shows no restraint in its capability to be boisterous and obscene, it falls short from actually subverting the all-too-familiar social class and gender clichés, so that despite repeated reassurances from a number of characters that “it’s not that kind of movie”, the heroes are unnervingly white and elite, and the women are relegated to supportive catalysts, and dare I say it, the butt of a joke. However, that isn’t to say that Kingsman isn’t immensely fun and oozing with style, and fans of its predecessor Kick-Ass will no doubt enjoy the dark humour and raucous comic-book violence. Judging by the divided opinions in online forums, the film also manages to raise some disturbing questions pertaining to our modern society and humankind in general, and elicit a surpring rise in interest towards British gentleman attire especially within Asia, a marketing scheme Vaughn, in collaboration with men’s luxury clothing retailers, capitalised on. After all, while Kingsman might try to convince us that a true gentleman’s virtues come from within, a well-fitted suit won’t hurt – that is if you’re ready to shell out some big bucks.


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Lyra Li

Helsinki

A perpetual dreamer searching for new adventures, more crime novels to read and the determination to become a minimalist.
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