Friday, November 6, 2015

2015: A year of spy flicks reviewed (Part One)

What a year for spy movies! I'm a fan of the genre, so I reviewed them all. In the run up to the Antipodean release of Spectre next week, I'm going to release reviews of the various spy-related movies that came out this year, starting with today's review of...

Kingsman: The Secret Service
I'm not as high on this as most other people out there. A homage to old-school Bond flicks, Kingsman ends up as a prime example of the things I dislike about the veteran spy series. The acting is excellent -- Firth steals the whole show, Egerton is a far better lead than Vaughn had in Kickass, and Jackson has great fun as a larger-than-life villain. However while they are all great, for me the kudos have to go to Sofia Boutella as Valentine's hench woman Gazelle -- a superlative re-working of Rosa Klebb, she's the best hench woman to come along since Xenia Onatopp in GoldenEye.

The first half of the movie is a lot of fun, as working class hero Eggsy (Edgerton) is introduced to the world of the Kingsman organisation, and learns how to be a gentleman spy from his mentor, veteran agent Harry Hart (Firth). The movie has a nice balance between old and new school spying, with some good banter and a good emotional anchor in the relationship between Eggsy and Harry.

However, while I enjoyed the first half of Kingsman, the second half illustrates one of my issues with the Brosnan movies -- if you are going to take a formula designed for a particular era (the 60s) and then transpose it without modification to a contemporary context, you are going to run into problems.

The one token adjustment is the violence, which is designed to add a sense of danger and excitement to the Roger Moore-ish antics but it just comes off as crass and sadistic. My main problem was how inconsistent the tone and style of violence was -- especially the church sequence. In the other action scenes, the violence is carried off with a cartoonish sensibility that emphasises the humour and feels in keeping with the frothy tone of the first half of the picture.

The church scene is meant to illustrate how the villain's plan is going to work, which is fine -- it's a chance to raise the stakes for our heroes. But the way the scene is played is completely at odds with what the scene means within the story. Instead of giving a sense of the peril the world is in, Vaughn is more interested in showing that Colin Firth has spent some time at the gym, and making a sick joke out of having Mr. Darcy massacre a group of people in ways that would make Jason Vorhees blush. It just feels completely out of place with the rest of the movie, and threw off the rest of the movie for me.

While there are a few nice touches in the home stretch, Kingsman just turns into a modern equivalent of a Roger Moore Bond movie and becomes a series of very predictable and uninteresting set pieces. The final fight with Gazelle felt a little too CGI-assisted for my taste, and with all of his gadgets, it never felt like Eggsy was in any real peril. The Busby Berkley-style head explosions were great, but other than that, the climax just felt tired and old-fashioned. That final joke was a misstep too.

Overall, I'm split on the movie. I enjoyed the first half, and did not particularly care for the second half. However, I recommend it -- it's an interesting experiment in taking an old formula and updating it. While it is not a complete success, there are plenty of aspects to the production (including the fantastic musical score) which are worth a look.

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