Saving the World from Environmentalist Billionaires: Review of Kingsman: The Secret Service
Kingsman: The Secret Service is a big-budget semi-satirical take on the spy genre, featuring the film clichés audiences now associate with the James Bond and Jason Bourne franchises. These include global intrigue, amazing gadgetry, beautiful women, hand-to-hand combat, and multiple international locales.
Many friends of laissez-faire, and those suspicious of today’s international elites, will welcome elements of a film premised on private-sector heroes and a sociopath who wants to save the world from global warming. Unfortunately, however, the film's lackluster execution will leave many wishing the finished product were more memorable and compelling.
Kingsman centers on a secret stateless crime-fighting organization funded by the private estates of upper middle-class Englishmen whose heirs had been killed in World War I. It’s an “independent international organization” we’re told, and it’s no small affair. The Kingsman organization has access to at least one enormous hangar full of top-shelf privately-owned military equipment, and a team of the world’s smartest, strongest, and most agile secret agents. Th ey function above and separate from any recognized legal system or government edict.
It is this world which the main character, “Eggsy” Unwin (Taron Egerton), aspires to join at the prodding of agent Harry Hart (Colin Firth) who is only alive thanks to the heroics of Unwin's father years before. But, being a super-secret organization, the details of these heroics, and those of other Kingsman “knights” (as they think of themselves), will never be known by the general public. Unlike crass government agents and celebrities who desire adulation for their efforts, it seems, Kingsman agents desire that only justice be done. Unwin must be trained not only in the art of super-spydom, but also in the ways of being a gentleman and wearing fine tailored clothes. These skills, the film makes clear, are learned and not inherited, and anyone can rise to any level of refinement to which he aspires. These are, after all, modern gentlemen. Snobbery — that is, the avoidance of it — is very much a theme in this movie, and for Harry and the other younger members of the Kingsman organization, it’s important to remember that “manners maketh man.”
If this all seems a bit too pat to be realistic, there’s no need to worry about that aspect of it because the film maintains a base level of irony throughout. Nevertheless, the villain himself is genuinely vile. For Unwin, Hart, and the other Kingsman knights, the gravest threat they face is Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson), a billionaire in the tradition of Bill Gates or Steve Jobs who has become convinced that mankind is a “virus” that is causing global warming and a host of other environmental disasters. The only way to save planet Earth, Valentine believes is to kill off most of humanity.
Valentine has magnanimously preserved a remnant of humanity, however, and before he kills off nearly seven billion people, he invites the elite of the world — various in-cahoots politicians and super-rich families — to a mountain bunker where they will party and watch the near-apocalypse in safety. “You are the chosen ones,” Valentine informs his favorites in the upper crust. But for everyone else, saving the environment requires death in an orgy of global violence.
The movie progresses nicely to the climactic final scenes in which Unwin, having transformed himself in true Pygmalion fashion, and others try to stop Valentine. Unfortunately, the wheels start to come off in the minutes before the final showdown, and the film's weaknesses come most to the fore as the movie turns to uninteresting excess including non-stop streams of expendable evil henchmen in the style of a 1980s video game.
Furthermore, the R-rated Kingsman can’t seem to decide what mood or tone it wishes to strike. In the final sequences the film departs from its lighthearted but gritty tone and becomes suddenly cartoonish, to the point of being distracting at first and boring soon after. One might even begin thinking this is indeed a sanitized PG-13 summer blockbuster were it not for the out-of nowhere teenage-sex-romp elements — which lacked any set-up — that are seemingly cut-and-pasted from another movie into this one in the final minutes.
These weaknesses mar what might otherwise be a well-executed and biting commentary on coercive environmentalism — namely, the impulses behind many governmental efforts to forcibly manage and control natural resources, economic growth, and even human reproduction in the name of “sustainability.” Clearly, Kingsman: The Secret Service is attempting to play to the audience’s disdain for celebrities who lecture us on carbon emissions one minute, but fly around in private jets and live in 50,000-square-foot houses the next. Even more unexpected is the revelation that ultimately, the governments of the world are both clueless and powerless in the face of such evil, and it’s up to the private sector and intellectual heirs of long-dead wealthy English businessmen to save the day. This is a promising premise for a franchise indeed, although perhaps it would be best if taken up by more able filmmakers in the future.
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Cite This Article
Ryan McMaken, "Saving the World from Environmentalist Billionaires: Review of Kingsman: The Secret Service," The Austrian 1, no. 2 (March-April 2015): 10–11.