Matthew Vaughan and Mark Millar love playing with genre in a very specific way. They simply change the main characters to be the last type of person you would expect it to be. They did it in Kickass in 2009 when they made a comics nerd a superhero and they’ve done it again with Kingsman: The Secret Service, turning a working class street kid into James Bond. Kingsman isn’t a perfect film but a film doesn’t have to be perfect to be important or interesting and that’s what this article is for. Kingsman offers us great insight into the spy movie genre. And also a Swedish Princess’s asshole. Mostly spy movies though.
The Kingsman are a group of elite British spies, entirely independent from government, who operate across the globe in order to maintain peace. Years prior to the events of the film, Galahad (Colin Firth) was saved by a working class recruit that sacrificed his life. He visits the man’s family and gives to his infant son, Gary, a medal with a code on the back that guarantees him a favour in the future. Back in the present, Gary has become Eggsy (Taron Edgerton), a stereotypical London delinquent living in a council flat with an abusive step-dad. Also at this time a Kingsman agent, Lancelot, is killed in the field when he stumbles upon a larger plot and his replacement must be found. Galahad puts forward Eggsy as a candidate so he can compete to be a member of the Kingsman while Galahad investigates what happened to Lancelot.
So let’s talk about this working class spy idea and how it impacts the genre. Obviously, the blueprint for the entire spy movie genre is the James Bond series and James Bond isn’t exactly a part of the proletariat. If you told James Bond that working class people couldn’t afford water he’d say “Let them drink martinis”. So when you take the mould that the Bond series created out of alcoholism, sexual innuendo and bourgeoisie values and apply it to Eggsy from the block you are creating a commentary on the genre. So what’s it saying? Basically, Kingsman seeks to demonstrate the illusion of class by slightly warping a lot of the classic spy movie beats. The part of the movie that best illustrates this is the hero villain dynamic between Eggsy and Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson). Valentine is a billionaire philanthropist dressed in gangster-nerd chic who has MacDonald’s and 1946 Lafitte for dinner. He vomits when he sees blood so he has a ridiculous hench-woman called Gazelle (Sofia Boutella). She has swords for legs because of course she does. Eggsy is a street urchin who’s seen My Fair Lady and isn’t afraid to do what’s necessary. Both sides embody traits of both lower and upper classes. This blurring of the lines shows that the idea of class is, in the opinions of Matthew Vaughan and Mark Millar at least, are constructed mentally from person to person.
I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking “Blah, blah, Marxism, blah, blah Pygmalion story, blah, blah shit. Doesn’t matter if it’s not fun”. Guess what though? I agree. As do Matthew Vaughan and Mark Millar. Like I said, Kingsman makes use of slightly warped versions of the spy movie beats but aside from the literary meaning of these what they really do is bring a fresh, modern perspective to them. The actors are also clearly having the time of their lives. Samuel L. Jackson was a perfect blend of comedic, menacing and maniacal. Mark Strong as Merlin was basically if Q had balls of gilded steel. Taron Edgerton’s Eggsy has his moments but because of the way the film was structured he doesn’t get to shine to his full potential. But I don’t even care because holy God damn, Colin Firth is incredible. He is the perfect mixture of classic spy tropes and the modern perspectives discussed earlier. Eloquent, sarcastic and brutal.
I’m also about to say a sentence that I never thought in a million years I’d say. That Colin Firth action scene was spectacular. The action throughout this film is so over the top, so cartoonish that you can’t help but love it. I mentioned earlier that Gazelle has swords for legs and Matthew Vaughan makes the most of this fact with the final battle between her and Eggsy being one of the highlights of the film. It’s because of Kingsman’s sense of fun and its commitment to being a good spy movie rather than a parody that it is allowed to explore perceptions of class in the genre without going up its own ass.
In conclusion, Kingsman: The Secret Service brings fresh eyes to what in recent years has been a tired genre without entering parody. I’m sure Central Intelligence will be just as enlightening when I go see it tomorrow. I’m sure.
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