Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Kingsmen: The Secret Service

2.5/4

Starring: Taron Egerton, Colin Firth, Samuel L. Jackson, Mark Strong, Sofia Boutella, Michael Caine

Rated R for Sequences of Strong Violence, Language and Some Sexual Content

Just because you assemble the same crew doesn't mean that lightning will strike twice.  Just look at "National Treasure" versus "National Treasure: Book of Secrets."  The cast, premise, writer, director and producer stayed the same, but the quality didn't.  The first film was a lot of fun, while the second felt like a wannabe.

Granted, "Kingsmen: The Secret Service" is a different genre than "Kick-Ass" (thus having different casts and stories) but they are both based on comic books by Mark Millar, are co-written by Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn, and are directed by Vaughn.  Both have similar goals: to both embrace and parody their respective genres.  "Kick-Ass" was wicked, if warped, fun.  "Kingsmen" doesn't make the cut.

Harry Hart, codename Galahad (Firth) is a secret agent in what is called The Kingsmen.  They're basically the British counterpart to Trey Parker and Matt Stone's Team America (complete with a stiff upper lip).  Anyway, one of his fellow agents has just been killed in action, and he's auditioning replacements.  He's putting his money on a street tough named Eggsy (Egerton), whose father saved his life many years ago.  The question is, does heroism strike twice?  Meanwhile, a billionaire named Valentine (Jackson) is promoting himself as the best thing since sliced bread, but the Kingsmen think that he has something sinister in the works.

What went wrong with this movie?  Maybe it's that spy spoofs have been done so often that trying to find a new wrinkle is an exercise in futility.  Much of the film's story (which has plenty of holes) is a retread of other, but not necessarily better, films.  Vaughn seems to be trying to recapture the lovingly irreverent tone of "Kick-Ass," but for the most part, it doesn't work.  There are a few laughs, but the warped tone of the 2010 sleeper hit isn't very much in evidence.

The acting varies.  Newcomer Taron Egerton has a few stiff moments here and there, but for the most part he carries the film well.  He's not Robert Pattinson, and for that we can be thankful.  Eggsy is rude, crude and doesn't take any shit from anyone, no matter how powerful they may be.  Colin Firth seems perfect for the part of a stiff Brit spy.  After all, that's what he's famous for.  Firth had a wonderful opportunity to poke fun at himself, but he takes the role too seriously.  There's no joy or subversive humor in his performance, and that deals the film a real blow.  Samuel L. Jackson appears to be enjoying himself, but Vaughn doesn't let him go on one of his trademark profanity-laden shouting sprees, which would have been allowed by the teen-unfriendly R-rating.  "Kick-Ass" villain Mark Strong underplays his Q-like (he's actually called Merlock) role, which may not have been the best decision.  Sofia Boutella is adorable as another competitor.  And Michael Caine has a small role too.

I don't know if Vaughn is a comic book geek or not, but "Kick-Ass" could only have succeeded if it was a labor of love for its filmmakers.  A movie like that can't have a single atom of its being in the wrong place, or else it will fail completely,  I didn't get that lovey feeling from "Kingsmen."

It's not a bad movie by any means, in fact, some parts are enjoyable.  I especially liked Valentine's assistant, Gazelle (Boutella), whose feet have been replaced with swords, and Samuel L. Jackson utters the f-bomb in a great one-liner.  Ultimately, though, I would say that this movie is better left for Blu Ray/Netflix, particularly in this weather.  At least there you can have subtitles to understand some of the thick Cockney accents.

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