Tag Archives: Matthew Vaughn

Kingsman: The Secret Service

Kingsman: The Secret Service is not particularly intelligent, mature or able to fully escape the shadow of a certain other Matthew Vaughn film, but it is a hell of a lot of fun.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

kingsman 2Matthew Vaughn is now one of the best action directors working today.  That feels really weird and kinda wrong to type and say, but it’s honestly true by this point.  The guy who got his start producing Guy Ritchie crime films and directing Layer Cake is now one of the best action movie directors working today.  It all, however, becomes more than clear when one actually watches Kingsman: The Secret Service.  In stark contrast to the typical way of shooting action films, Vaughn doesn’t shake the camera around like a drunkard who is sobering up, he doesn’t keep it tightly zoomed in on the characters in a misguided attempt to make the viewer feel like they’re there, and he doesn’t rapidly cut between sixteen different shots to mask any violence in incomprehensibility.

Instead, Kingsman is fond of actually showing you stuff.  He prefers longer takes with slightly steadier cameras, although they do shake, that keep enough distance from the people that it’s filming without losing the impact of the various hits.  In addition, Vaughn is a man of style, flinging himself into the comic book world of Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons’ source material with gleeful abandon.  Choreography is wild and exaggerated – many unnecessary flips, highly impractical moves, and operating on rule of cool more than anything else – and he plays with speed to great effect.  There are instances of the obvious Zack Snyder super-slo-mo-then-speed-up-then-slow-down-again school of filmmaking, but most of the time things are more subtle, employing brief doses of hyper-speed to enhance the kineticism of the fight scenes as well as purposefully jarring usages of CG’d environments and stitched together shots.

This all ends up creating action scenes that feel very reminiscent of the Lucas Lee fight from Scott Pilgrim vs. The World and the entirety of The World’s End, like Matthew Vaughn saw what Edgar Wright was doing and, instead of merely taking notes, lifted pretty much the whole aesthetic for himself.  It really, really works, though.  When Kingsman does get into its action scenes, they end up being a tonne of glorious fun.  Much like when he directed Kick-Ass, Vaughn displays a gleeful rather teenage enthusiasm for action sequences, prioritising fun and coolness over logic, reality and good taste.  In its standout sequence, Vaughn ends up crafting an utterly ridiculous brawl that starts off feeling like slightly uncomfortable wish-fulfilment bad taste, but becomes so gloriously deranged – aided by a perfect music cue – and so impeccably staged and shot that I ended up revelling with the film in its excessive line-crossing mayhem.  It’s the kind of action scene that films don’t have the balls to make nowadays.

That’s what Kingsman has going for it.  Pure glorious debauched fun, where you can also actually make out what’s going on, which is an incredibly nice change of pace from humourless incomprehensible dreck like Taken 3, The Equalizer and their ilk.  I mean, it’s not the only thing going for it, but it is the main thing going for it and the thing that powers it through most of its problems.  Vaughn’s direction is always pacey and stylish, the performances are all excellent – in particular, relative newcomer Taron Egerton really nails lead character Eggsy’s innate goodness without losing sight of the fact that he’s a mischievous young adult, whilst Colin Firth legitimately (and surprisingly) impresses as a halfway convincing action movie star – and there are many legitimate belly-laughs to be found within.

This all being said, Kingsman does have many problems.  For one, at two hours and change, it is too long and that sustained energy eventually starts feeling a bit tiring at many points where the film isn’t going full-tilt.  For two, whilst I do give the film points for a female lead character, in the shape of competing Kingsman candidate Roxy (Sophie Cookson), I do take those points back for the film not really giving her much to do, despite making a big deal out of her existence.  This is actually a problem with the film overall, lots of time is spent on certain characters and plotlines – the main ones involving chav Eggsy beings groomed by Colin Firth’s Harry Hart to become the latest Kingsman, a member of an elite and highly secretive spy organisation, whilst tech billionaire Richmond Valentine (a lisping Samuel L. Jackson) puts into play an evil plan that threatens the world – and that split can, at times, leave the film feeling unfocussed and underdeveloped in parts.

More of an issue than those, though, is the simple fact that Kingsman is not Kick-Ass.  And I’m not just saying that because it’s the same people who made Kick-Ass the film (Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman) adapting work by the same people who made Kick-Ass the comic (Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons).  Kingsman has that same anarchic tone, that same gleeful desire to revel in immaturity, that same stylish nature, the same attempt at melding action and comedy, that same irritating self-conscious insistence on having characters refer to the type of movie the film is trying to be in-dialogue, that same shock death of [REDACTED] at the two-thirds mark…  I think you see what the problem is.

Kingsman ends up hitting a lot of Kick-Ass’ beats only without the surprise impact that Kick-Ass had back in 2010.  It’s also kinda just a lesser movie in general.  It’s nowhere near as funny, most of its cast isn’t as developed, its pace over the runtime isn’t as well managed, and I rarely found it as giddy and grin-inducingly brilliant as I found, and still find, Kick-Ass to be.  It feels less vital, less like a shot in my movie-going arm, and less brilliant than that film, basically.  When it’s going full-tilt, pushing itself well past the typical limits of immaturity and backing utterly ridiculous extended displays of violence in sync to “Pomp And Circumstance”, that lower-quality Xerox feeling rescinds completely and the film is a delight to watch.  When it slows down from that, though, my personal being was filled equally with enjoyment for what I was watching but also a desire to just watch Kick-Ass again.

That all being said, Kingsman: The Secret Service is still a delight and a far better film than its last minute delay and eventual January release date would have you believe.  In its lesser moments, it’s a less-great version of Kick-Ass.  In the moments when it’s on fire, and those do eventually come and my word are they glorious, it sets a high bar for the rest of 2015’s action films to clear.  Superbly directed, very well acted, and a great deal of fun, Kingsman is very much a delight that, although it never overcomes the shadow of Kick-Ass, is another excellent entry into the filmography of Matthew Vaughn: one of the best action movie directors working today.

Still feels weird saying that.

Kingsman: The Secret Service will be released in UK cinemas on January 29th, and in US cinemas on February 13th.

Callum Petch is as free as a bird now.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch) and listen to Screen 1 on Hullfire Radio every Monday at 9PM BST (site link)!

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Best films on TV: 6th to 12th May

The best film on free-to-air television every day this week, as chosen by site editor and “film snob” (The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw, December 2012) James Diamond

High NoonMonday 6th May – High Noon (Film4, 11am)

Not only is George Zimmerman’s western one of the finest examples of a genre with a rich and wonderful history, but Film4 are offering the opportunity to watch it in ‘real’ real-time with an eleven o’clock start that should ensure you’re treated to the fantastic showdown at a titular and quite literal ‘high noon’. Gary Cooper plays the dignified town sheriff leaving town with his new bride (Grace Kelly), until word arrives that a dangerous gang he put away are heading back to exact revenge. Screenwriter Carl Foreman was hounded out of his native United States for producing a film that many saw as an allegory of the McCarthy communist witch hunts, with John Wayne branding the film ‘unAmerican’.

More great Bank Holiday viewing available later on today with the finest Star Trek film of them all (at least until we get a good look at Star Trek Into Darkness later this month) with Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan on Film4 at 2.35pm.

Tuesday 7th May – Manhunter (ITV4, 10.30pm)

Tonight sees the start of Hannibal on Sky Living at 10pm (the new TV series based on the earlier life of Dr Hannibal Lecter starring my current actor-crush Mads Mikkelsen), and those of you with a *insert generic DVR brand* box can watch that while taping this Michael Mann thriller that first introduced the world to the intelligent and wonderfully charming serial killer and cannibal. Or you can watch it on ITV4+1. Your choice.

Wednesday 8th May – Old School (BBC3, 9pm)

I love everything about this film. Luke Wilson is the lovable loser who is cajoled into forming a fraternity to appeal to the outcasts of the university campus where he lives after leaving his cheating wife (played by the brilliant Juliette Lewis). Vince Vaughan is his best friend in a typical Vaughan performance, just before he started to become really annoying. And Will Ferrell has never been better than as the under-the-thumb husband who unleashes his inner beast when ‘Frank the Tank’ passes into college legend. Great fun.

For those after a little more class, then I’m sure the podcast’s own Gerry McAuley would recommend Pedro Almodovar’s Volver on Film4 at 1.40am. I imagine I’ll be taping it and then steadfastly not getting around to watching it for the next twelve months.

Thursday 9th May – True Lies (Film 4, 9pm)

Quite simply the last great film that either James Cameron or Arnold Schwarzenegger made. Arnie plays Harry Tasker, a secret agent who is so good at pretending to be a mild-mannered and boring salesman that the spark has completely disappeared from his marriage to his wife Helen (Jamie Lee Curtis). In true action movie fashion, he ends up having to save the world and his relationship while taking down a jet fighter with his bare hands.

Friday 10th May – Primer (Film4, 10.50pm)

Even if you’ve seen Shane Caruth’s low-budget time-travel mindfuck before, you could probably do with watching it again to get close to understanding even half of what’s going on with this incredibly complex and clever film. Reportedly the only time-travel film not to contain a single paradox, it is a ballsy science fiction that doesn’t treat its audience as idiots, but possibly makes them feel that way regardless. You’ll need this directly after watching.

Saturday 11th May – The Princess Bride (5*, 3.10pm)

When you become a parent, you start planning all the films you’re going to brainwash your children with on rainy weekend afternoons, and The Princess Bride is one of those films for me. With a very knowing performance by Peter Falk as Fred Savage’s granddad reading him the story of The Princess Bride, this film is both a celebration and parody of the adventure stories of our youth. It’s incredibly funny and quotable, with brilliant themes of true love and revenge. A truly wonderful film.

Sunday 12th May – Layer Cake (Film 4, 9pm)

It’s less than 10 years since the release of a this relatively low-budget British gangster thriller, and little did we know then that its star and director would go on to become two of Britian’s biggest exports to Hollywood. Daniel Craig had already won rave reviews in Our Friends in the North, though this was the role that gave us a glimpse of the gritty action star who would become James Bond. But it’s the rise of Matthew Vaughn that is more impressive. Starting out as Guy Ritchie’s producer on Lock Stock and Snatch, he stepped out of Mr Madonna’s shadow with this movie and never looked back, going on to become on of the most successful British directors of recent times with Stardust, Kick-Ass, and X-Men: First Class.