After the ambiguity of Swiss Army Man, Jalina came up with a much more straightforward film (if little more believable) in 2014’s Kingsman: The Secret Service, which was directed by Matthew Vaughn. Vaughn previously brought us Kick-Ass, a fact which brings things a bit more in focus – because when you’ve got a hip-to-the-fourth-wall superhero movie knock-off, what do you follow it up with but a hip-to-the-fourth-wall spy movie knock-off?
And let’s not beat around the bush – Kingsman is most definitely a James Bond knock-off. The Kingsman is MI-6 (no real clue why it’s not “Kingsmen”, but whatever), Firth’s spy Galahad is 007 (with several other agents carrying English mythonyms acting the part of other double-zeros), Michael Caine’s Arthur is M, Mark Strong’s Merlin is Q, we’ve got all sorts of fantastic toys, and there’s probably a Moneypenny I’ve blanked on somewhere in there. There’s even a comically diabolical villain in Samuel L. Jackson’s Valentine – but let’s be honest, you couldn’t remotely copy every other aspect of the Bond films and then not have a comically diabolical villain.
If there’s a twist at all from Bond (or at least the typical Bond, as I haven’t seen them all), it’s that fully half of the plot of Kingsman follows the recruitment process to replace a fallen agent. The whole thing falls into place relatively neatly. Some decade-plus before the main action of the film a young Kingsman is killed largely due to a moment of inattention on Galahad’s part. In explaining the death to the widow and young son of the deceased, Galahad provides them with a phone number that they can call in the case that they need assistance. The widow basically dismisses the idea and falls into what would appear to be a neverending pattern of low-life boyfriends. Meanwhile the son “Eggsy” grows up to be a talented street tough (with a heart of gold, of course, and only an appropriate father figure away from being MP or something).
The plot evolves largely in parallel – in one plot line Valentine, a Bill Gatesesque tech magnate, has decided that humans are destroying the earth, and instead of nobly joining the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement he has decided that he and the chosen few are going to force the remainder of humanity into involuntary extinction. An early Valentine operation results in the death of Kingsman Lancelot, leaving an opening in the agency (which, evidently, has a strict limit of members despite the growing human population – a certain recipe for eventual irrelevance). Each Kingsman nominates one person, chosen by completely undisclosed methods, as a potential replacement and these cadets go through grueling recruitment process. Galahad’s choice as a recruit is Eggsy, a decision which is made after Eggsy uses Galahad’s old metaphorical Get Out Of Jail Free card as a literal Get Out Of Jail Free card after getting nipped for vehicle theft.
While Galahad is busy very unsubtly investigating Valentine (each of them appears to know exactly what is going on the whole time – well, except for that time that Galahad suggests that Valentine buy a particular hat from a particular haberdasher, one which of course has a secret camera in it whydidn’tValentineseethatcoming?) Eggsy is busy surviving the recruitment. Interestingly enough, the one thing that the recruits ought to realize by the end of the process is that they are being lied to at every step. The “recruit” who “drowned” in the first test was in fact a plant who didn’t die; the Now-That-You’re-Falling-To-Earth-By-The-Way-One-Of-You-Has-A-Bogus-Parachute test turns out to be untrue as all parachutes are good; the Bad-Guy-Will-Untie-You-From-The-Train-Tracks-If-You-Tell-About-Kingsman is another fake. So by the time that Eggsy gets to the Shoot-Your-Dog-With-This-Gun test, he really ought to be aware that the gun is loaded with blanks. Still, he refuses. And frankly, I think that’s the right answer, as if the Kingsman organization is everything it professes to be, it would certainly disapprove of the completely needless, arbitrary, and cruel killing of an animal. Nonetheless, Eggsy fails the test while the movie-star-attractive Roxy (funny how that works) passes and becomes the next agent.
Meanwhile, Galahad’s research has brought him to understand that Valentine is attempting to use some sort of mind-control satellite broadcast to turn all of the humans on earth (except for those chosen few who have a neutralizer implanted behind their ear) into hyper-violent beings that are going to kill each other off. In a test run, a local mind-control device is unleashed on Galahad at a fundamentalist, anti-gay Westboro-Baptist-style church resulting in the members all killing each other (and being killed by the more skilled Galahad, naturally). This is perhaps the least disguised political wet dream sequence in Hollywood since the closing scenes of Team America: World Police (another film with a colon in the title!) Galahad escapes the church unscathed but is subsequently murdered by Valentine.
Eggsy, learning of Galahad’s death, returns to Kingsman to talk to the big boss Arthur, whom Eggsy notices has a small scar behind his ear indicating that he has been compromised by Valentine. Of course Arthur, being an old fuddy duddy, has never seen The Princess Bride and as such is unprepared for Eggsy to switch out a glass of brandy laced with a remote control explosive while his back is turned. And in the midst of a speech where he might as well be telling Eggsy never to go up against a Kingsman when death is on the line, Arthur blows himself up.
And so Eggsy hooks up with the uncompromised Merlin and the green Roxy to find Valentine’s secret lair, disable the satellite that is going to turn almost all of humanity into a violent murder squad, and generally foil the supervillain’s plan. It works, Valentine is killed, and in the process Eggsy is rewarded with blastoporal favors by a Scandinavian princess that he rescues. The End.
I don’t really know if I have that much more I want to say about Kingsman. It’s fun, it follows all of the conventions of the standard spy flick while poking fun at them, it doesn’t necessarily make a lot of sense. But it’s good for some laughs, and it was successful enough they’re making another one. Which somehow has Colin Firth in it as some sort of flashback or reincarnation or something. They just couldn’t help themselves, could they?