In 1988, Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards attended the Winter Olympics as the sole representative of the Great Britain ski jumping team. Facing active discouragement from his nation’s Olympic committee, Edwards was forced to self-fund the journey that led him to the Calgary-held Olympics, mounting his campaign on sheer determination and grit rather than skill or, you know, practice. His name became synonymous with perseverance, his bumbling visage a representation of that sportsman mantra of being the best that you can be. Read More
At the beginning of James Kent’s Testament of Youth the Armistice has been signed and World War I is ending. Though our protagonist, Vera Brittain (Alicia Vikander) isn’t celebrating. As she makes her way through crowded London streets, she looks beaten down and dazed. By this point, the war has taken everything from her. In real life, Brittain became a Pacifist after experiencing the horrors of The Great War first-hand. Based on her memoir of the same name, Testament of Youth carries a strong anti-war message that Kent handles with subtlety and compassion. He slowly easing into Brittain’s tale, instead of starting with suffering right away. Keeping the focus squarely on Vera and her evolution as a character, he crafts a delicate and understanding biopic worthy of mild celebration. Read More
Absurdist superspy farce that tips its top-hat to the JB’s (James Bond, Jason Bourne, Jack Bauer) while rampantly assaulting its way into the 21st century, Kingsman: The Secret Service is filmic reassurance that ridiculous fun can still be had in the theater. Over the past decade, the spy spoof (Austin Powers, Spies Like Us) has mostly gone the way of the Crocodile Dundee (unless we’re counting the underwhelming, geri-action Red films. Note: we shouldn’t be). Leave it to genre revivalist Matthew Vaughn to inject that tired and trying genus with the same eye-widening, pulse-quickening hit of adrenaline that he’d previously brought to the superhero and crime genre with Kick-Ass, X-Men: First Class and Layer Cake. Brimming with tactful homage and just enough youthful zest to make its balls-to-the-walls-ness truly one-of-a-kind, Kingsman is a shining, shimmering, splendid example of why we go to the movies.
In Vaughn’s murderous opus, the titular Kingsmen are a copacetic society of mustache-twirling gentleman/gun-totting acrobats renown for their secrecy, military effectiveness and hand-tailored suits. When world leaders want the job done right, they hire the Kingsman and if everything goes according to plan, you don’t hear peep about their success in the papers. One might assume from the cut of their jib that the Kingsmen are a group of pacifist nancies but Vaughn wastes little time conveying just how deadly his crew of well-dressed gentlemen is.
The stage is set with a fortress under siege, explosions tumbling block letter title cards to Dire Straight’s pounding “Money for Nothing″. Through a window, a masked agent informs an Arab man bolt-strapped to a chair that he will count down from ten and if he doesn’t have the information he needs in that time frame, ten will be the last thing he ever hears. There’s no deliberation, no hesitation, just counting. At five, he caps both the captive’s knees. There’s no breathy drawls, no pregnant pauses. This ain’t that kind of movie, bruv. Harry Hart, code name Galahad, counts down like a metronome.
Caught unawares, Galahad is too late to stop the prisoner from pulling the pin on a stashed grenade, but finds himself and his fellow Kingsmen saved when a fellow super-agent in training throws himself on the explosive. Seventeen years later, Galahad feels indebted to his savior and, with a recently opened spot on the team, seeks out the promising-but-problematic son of the man who saved his life so many years ago, Gary ‘Eggsy’ Unwin (Taron Egerton). Eggsy is a kind-hearted ruffian, loyal to a fault and entangled with the wrong crew because of his mother’s not-so-cunning choice of gentlemen friends.
What transpires next involves a global climate change world domination plot, X-Men: First Class-style training montages, an ultra-violent blitzkrieg in a church that will assuredly go down as one of the year’s most memorable and visually-arresting sequences, Samuel L. Jackson playing a despotic billionaire with a lisp and a soft stomach for blood using the subterfuge of free data plans to “clean the slate” and loads of not-so-subtle James Bond references. If the above does not at least pique your interest, Kingsman is probably not the film for you.
The film again pairs Vaughn with the authors of the comic book source material on which Kingsman is based; Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons (Kick-Ass). So again if you weren’t won over by the wacky, violent antics of Kick-Ass, this is likely not going to amuse you. And though shy a Hit-Girl, Kingsman has plenty of fun, memorable characters to play with, most notably Colin Firth as Galahad. Liam Neeson reinvented himself as an action hero in his twilight years so why not the King with the lisp? asks Vaughn. Firth makes the most of his pithy dialogue and provides an adroit aging action hero – a lovingly rendered throwback to the age of the smooth-talking British spy. Engaged in a carousel of gun shots and knifings, Firth shines in the action scenes too, even if it’s a fair gamble to say that most of his stunts are mostly the work of computer animations.
There are a few notable sequences that feature spotty CGI work (Eggsy’s mid-air, knife-tipped shoe stab makes him look like a plastic action figure) but in the center of Kingsman go-for-broke, give-em-all-ya-got approach to breathless bombast, it couldn’t matter less. The eyebrow-raising smarm and au courant irreverence of Vaughn’s rhapsodical vision just make for one hell of a show. Plus, there’s nothing quite like capping off your film with the prospect of slamming the back door of a princess. In the end, isn’t that the point of this whole spy venture anyways?