There are a number of things that make “Kingsmen” really cool: seeing Colin Firth — master of the period drama — throwing punches in fight scenes; the wonderfully choreographed action sequences; seeing Mark Hamill get some work. There are, however, a few things that make the film not so cool: the ridiculously slapdash CGI in the previously mentioned action sequences, the lazy third act, Samuel L. Jackson’s lisp.
“Kingsmen” is a film about a super-secret British spy force — whether they are actually an arm of the British government is never actually addressed — who have been keeping the world safe for a couple of centuries. The group’s size is both small and set: each member works under a code name corresponding to one of the Arthurian Knights, and new members are not recruited until a previous member dies, thus making a seat at the table.
This is precisely what happens toward the beginning of the film when Lancelot (played with proper James Bond smarm by Jack Davenport) is killed on a mission, and each remaining Kingsmen is then tasked with finding a recruit to bring in for training and testing to fill his spot. Galahad (Firth, who really is wonderful in the role) settles on our hero, “Eggsy” Unwin (Taron Egerton). Seventeen years previously, Eggsy’s father was a Kingsmen hopeful (shown to us at the film’s opening in flashback), who died on his final test mission, so Galahad feels protective of Eggsy.
From there, the film settles into several conventional tropes. Eggsy has lived a hard life but shows a natural adeptness at gymnastics and a high intelligence. He comes from the rough part of town, so he is immediately at odds with his other higher-bred male recruits. It is the quick and easy, paint-by-numbers method of script writing. Inoffensive, if not innovative.
Jackson plays Valentine, a tech mogul billionaire and the film’s villain, to whom the writers have given a distracting and wholly unnecessary lisp, which Jackson plays up in his usual, to the hilt fashion. There are a couple of scenes featuring Jackson and Firth together that are among the most interesting in the film, but the film never really tries for high tension.
“Kingsmen” is all about the action, and thankfully it gets that part of things right. Fight scenes are acrobatic and beautifully choreographed, with Firth’s visit to a Westboro Baptist-esque redneck church worth paying particular attention to.
The only genuine lament comes in the third act, when everything about the film stops trying. The writing becomes lazy with convenient timing and plot holes everywhere, the action gets decidedly more violent, and the ending introduces a level of raunch to the film that hadn’t been there before, thereby catching you off guard. Then there is the matter of the bullet wounds.
There has been a trend lately of films choosing to digitally insert bullet wounds on people, rather than using physical effects like squibs. “American Sniper” did the same thing, with similar distracting results. Digital bullet wounds do not look convincing and have a cheapening effect over the entire scene in which they are inserted. When you combine that with generally over-the-top action like “Kingsmen” supplies, the end result is decidedly noticeable and shoddy.
“Kingsmen” is not as clever as it thinks it is, not by a far sight. It is, however, every bit as fun as it wants to be. At the end of the day, sometimes that is just enough. CV