‘Kingsman’ — A Lack of Manners.

There’s a scene in ‘Kingsman: The Secret Service’ in which Samuel L Jackson’s character vomits all over his Dillinger-esque desk. The plot says that this happens because his character has just witnessed too much gory violence and is sickened by what he has just seen. However, I suspect that this is purely the involuntary reaction that every actor has when working for Matthew Vaughn. To puke. It’s also pretty much the sensation you’re left with at the end of the movie. Maybe not quite throwing up — the film is too empty to provoke that intense a response — but it most certainly leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

Now I’ve had a problem with Mark Miller and Matthew Vaughn for a while now. Not for any major reason but simply because they’re both utterly bereft of morals, humanity and talent of any discernible form whatsoever. I thought Kick Ass was a truly godawful film; a movie with absolutely no redeeming features whatsoever. It wasn’t the violence, the swearing or adult content. I eat all that up usually. It was more its complete hollowness, nasty attitude to everything, lack of coherence or direction but, worst of all, it was its swaggering posturing that it WAS as edgy and daring as it thinks it is. “Hey! Think this is a normal film? Well we have a twelve year old girl saying the ‘C’ word!” This is something only shocking or daring if you think a twelve year old swearing is in any way daring or shocking. It was also staggeringly unoriginal and dull to the point of euthanasia. And exactly the same applies to Kingsman.

Miller and Vaughn both think they’re being furiously outre but in reality they are just profoundly passe. For a director who seems to delight in how plugged into the current waves of the geek nexus he thinks he is it’s remarkable just how stunningly dated everything Matthew Vaughn makes actually looks and feels. It’s like he’s never left the ninties. It’s all urban London “yoof” kids in baseball caps joyriding sporty cars (I was expecting one of them to say “Rad” at one point), homages to The Avengers and ersatz swinging London that kinda went out of style in 1998, The Sun Newspaper and this new thing called the internet. It’s not London in the 60s Vaughn recalls but London of the 90s when we became seized by the rapture of nostalgia for the “groovy” years. But the problem with Blair’s 90’s “Cool Britannia” was that it was transcendentally shit. A desperate attempt to glue some of the romanticised glamour of seemingly better times — Carnaby Street, The Beatles and every other 60s cliche onto his political image to soften the party’s complete betrayal of the left. New Labour’s Cool Britannia was shitty, hollow and deeply cynical, so I guess it makes sense that Vaughn resonates so strongly with that era.

Watching a Matthew Vaughn film is like being down the pub with a pre-rehabilitated Chris Evans and Gazza getting pissed after filming that day’s TFI Friday and bragging about how they got away with Liam Gallagher saying the word “Fuck” on TV before the watershed. Boorish, yobbish, nastily arrogant and brain-damagingly dull. Watching a Matthew Vaughn film is like having a London geezer wrap his arm around you when you don’t want him to even touch you, and drunkenly shouting in your ear how “fakkin amazing” he is and if you don’t agree then, what’s that? You want a fakkin fight?! It’s also no surprise that Matthew Vaughn comes from another 90s institution — the mockney gangsta genre. A period of British film making that, in retrospect, produced hardly any movies even approaching some semblance of enduring quality. Seriously, try watching the Matthew Vaughn produced ‘Snatch’ today. It’s shit!

The other weird aspect about much of Vaughn and Miller’s work is that despite wanting to be achingly edgy, if it wasn’t for all the blood, swearing and violence then what you are left with is, basically, young teen fiction. Exactly the sort of thing that Vaughn most likely thinks his films are the exact opposite of. But I was struck and how similar Kingsman was to stuff such as Ender’s Game, The Hunger Games, Harry Potter, Eragon etc: a young teen is taken under the wing of a teacher type figure who helps them grow and defeat the bad guy. Take away the gore and you’re left with something no different from exactly what Kingsman most likely thinks it’s the polar opposite of –anodyne, juvenile, boilerplate pap.

There’s just such a massive lack of originality. Mark Miller’s writing process much just be — “Hey, I’ve got an idea! Let’s take an already established genre like superheros or James Bond but let’s add loads of swearing and violence because swearing and violence are cool!” And that’s it. Seriously, that’s Mark Miller summed up in two sentences. And instead of genuine originality let’s just reference shit loads of other stuff! And so in Kingsman we have nods to, amongst others, The Incredibles, Pulp Fiction (several times. Instead of the “medal” think “watch”), Tron, Goldfinger (the Church scene is set in Kentucky), Trainspotting, The Avengers, Scarface, Hot Fuzz, Smiley’s People, Mr Benn and on and on ad infinitum. But worse; strip all this away, all the nods, winks and references from Kingsman and you are left with nothing. Air. A dried husk of a movie that disintegrates upon touch.

Are there any positives? Well despite all the criticism of violence in place of substance, the fight in the church was pretty cool, if tonally misjudged, and Colin Firth could have made a pretty decent Bond after seeing him in action. But for all its talk of harking back to the glory days of spy movies when there was glamour, large secret bases, over the top villains and the romantic 60s heyday of Goldfinger and Thunderball, of all the Bond icons the film aspires to the only thing from James Bond that Kingsman is truly like is Goldfinger’s henchman Oddjob — nasty and intimidating but with ultimately nothing to say.

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Comedy writer, radio producer and director of large scale audio features.

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Colin Edwards

Comedy writer, radio producer and director of large scale audio features.