Kingsman: A Review
As much as I despair for the content of popular culture these days, I do admit I often indulge in it as a guilty pleasure. I recognize that 99% of film, literature and music produced these days is little more than intellectual junk food, but still I partake in it. I simply refuse to allow myself the illusion that it is anything more than it really is, instant gratification to ward off the dull boredom of modern existence. To my great delight, Kingsman: The Secret Service was a welcome surprise.
This is, without question, one of the finest films I have seen in a while. On a purely theatrical level, the action was amazing and it was very well shot. It was amazing the sheer amount of activity that could be occurring on screen at times, and yet far from being confusing it was perfectly easy to follow. The musical score was excellent, and lined up perfectly with the flow of the film. It also had an amazing cast, featuring Michael Caine, Colin Firth and Mark Strong (some of the finest names in British acting) and Samuel Jackson (who as a rare exception I actually enjoyed for once).
But above all, what enthralled me from start to finish was the purely reactionary message of the film. The arch villain of the piece is a Silicone Valley-type billionaire whose dastardly plot is not to simply enrich his bottom line or make a quick buck but…wait for it….radically reduce the planet’s population in the name of environmental sustainability. The protagonists? A secret society of elite British aristocrat types clad in Saville row suits compete with Oxfords and umbrellas. The film is dotted with little gems, from the entire UN being killed off in the action-packed finale, to a highly monarchist-inspired scene where the Crown Princess of Sweden takes her country’s Prime Minister to task for colluding with the main villain’s plan (tellingly, she is the only world leader in the film to do so).
But above all, the film stands out as a brilliant defense of both elitism and aristocracy in the most positive sense of both words. The concept of what makes a gentleman is explored thoroughly, and the point driven home that to be one is about so much more than good birth or money in the bank. Samuel Jackson’s character is probably richer than any of the toff-spies our heroes represent, but for all his money he’s no gentleman. His flashy and tacky clothes, trendy house, and McDonald’s fast food dinners show quite clearly that money does not buy class. In contrast, the film’s hero is a working-class bloke, and when we first meet him he’s a truly sorry sort, but to Kingsman’s credit it doesn’t cut him any slack. Near the beginning of the film a Kingsman agent tells him bluntly that his sorry station in life isn’t the fault of his low birth, or parental troubles, or the system somehow keeping him down, it’s his mentally that keeps him trapped in his low station.
It is the mentality of a true aristocrat that Kingsman captures with true brilliance. To be an elite means one has privilege, but also responsibility. That point is drummed home perfectly. Our low-born hero finds a cause greater than himself among the ranks of the Kingsman spies, and in doing so becomes someone greater than he was. The trappings of a gentleman are discounted, “manners doth make the man” Colin Firth recites oh so perfectly at one point, but the essence of what it is to be one is shown to be so much more. Honor, adherence to duty, and following in a tradition of those who followed before you are shown to be the real defining features of what makes a nobleman, while acknowledging that Plato’s observation that gold may sometimes birth copper, and from copper may sometimes come gold of the highest carat is true.
I find the fact that the film has done so well at the box office to be truly heartening (at present it has been running a strong second to that truly abominable film Fifty Shades of Grey *ugh*). In part it may be an expression of nostalgia on the part of the public, a secret yearning for the days when a man would never set foot outside without his umbrella and the distinction between oxfords and brogues actually meant something. Moreover, it may represent a growing recognition amongst the general public that to defend hierarchy and elitism is not one and the same with condoning the unlimited extravagances of Wall Street and new money 1%ers. OWS may well have a point when they criticise such types, but the answer is not to tear down noble privilege, but rather to demand a return of noble obligation (which means far more than dutifully paying into a progressive tax system and making a few obligatory donations to charity).
In conclusion, if you have some free time go see Kingsman. It’ll entertain you, and hopefully challenge you at the same time.