Kingsman: The Secret Service

The best way to describe the latest collaboration between filmmaker Mathew Vaughn and comic book wunderkind Mark Millar would best be described by the title of their last collaboration, Kickass! Vaughn and Co. have done it again. Turning another Mark Millar work into a bloody good time, literally.

The Kingsman are a super secret society of spies based in London whose activities and existence are known only to themselves. We meet Harry Hart, played by Oscar winner Colin Firth, a respected member of the Kingsman who believes it’s time to open their ranks to a more modern type of gentleman. This is how we meet our protagonist, Gary ‘Eggsy’ Unwin played by Taron Egerton, a punkish british youth, from the wrong side of the tracks and the son of Harry Harts former fellow Kingsman. After some brief world building scenes to establish these two distinct colorful sides of British society Eggsy is brought into the Kingsman’s recruitment program and our story takes off from there.

It’s obvious that this film is a love letter to classic spy movies of old, one character even professes his love of the fun sixties style spy flick, before they became all grim and gritty. Vaughn and Millar successfully find a brilliant blend of everything you know and love of old spy properties, guns, gadgets, gin, and girls, as well as  modern, frenetically paced action sequences. There are multiple shout outs to classic Bond films, a little Get Smart, a dash of Austin Powers, plus nods to Bourne and Bauer. Kingsman picks and chooses the best bits from spy films both old and new to give us something familiar yet fresh simultaneously. Colin Firth’s Harry would be right at home sitting across from Connery’s Bond.The action scenes in this film are where things feel really new though, while still taking the handheld shaky style of Bourne or any number of action movies today, the blocking and staging of these scenes never becomes the motion sickness inducing blur of so many modern films. Even during gigantic fights, you never lose sight of whats happening and to whom. The only negative things you could say about the action in this movie is that it’s almost certainly going to offend some audiences, and that the best set piece by far happens two-thirds of the way into the film. Don’t misunderstand me here, the rest of the film is great, but personally the scene I’m talking about (I’m just going to say church and you’ll figure it out) is the biggest, baddest thing in this movie, the kind of scene that people talk about for years after. It’s hard to follow-up something like that but the filmmakers do a great job of coming close. Sam Jackson also gets kudos here for bringing us a new take on an old idea. His version of a Bond villain is smart, hip, relevant, and funny as hell. To say more about his role would ruin the fun.

The other area Vaughn seems focus on is class warfare. The struggle of the middle class and poor in contrast with an uppercrust of high society snobs who see themselves as better, smarter, and more important to humanity.  There are some nods to other films that have dealt with the transformation of low-born to high-class, both in subtle story/ dialogue beats as well as outright being name checked. This part of the film is fairly by the book, if you’ve seen any number of other “poor boy introduced into rich mans world” type stories you can guess some of what will happen. There will be bullies who look down and underestimate our lead, he will have to work harder than anyone else and try to gain their begrudging respect. Pretty paint by numbers here, a few nice twists and gags along the way but nothing we haven’t seen variations on before.

Now that’s a whole lot of good there and while Kingsman: The Secret Service is a great movie it does have its flaws. The most glaring of which is a few prominent moments of very spotty CG work in the film. Namely, to my recollection, an opening shot of a giant building  where we zoom in through a window looks painfully fake, a couple of elevator rides are obvious greenscreen effects, large aerial group shots suffer from World War Z’s rubber people syndrome, and a terribly bad face mapping on a stunt double during a  scene that is in the trailer and was panned by several sites when the trailer came out. It’s amazing that when the film got pushed back from November they didn’t utilize that extra time to clean up the effects a bit.

There are also a few plot points that feel tacked on and a bit unnecessary but none of these bring the film down, they’re fun and harmless. There are a few story beats that have a certain crude or even mean edge to them. Writer Mark Millar is known to use extreme violence and sexual elements for shock value, and while most of that here is cartoonish and fun, a couple of moments, however fleeting, feel out of synch with the rest of the film and one specific part seems oddly politically motivated.

When it’s all said and done Kingsman The Secret Service is an amazing movie. It’s smart wit and fast action should be the model for any modern action movie. While still having stakes it doesn’t forget to have fun, and it realizes that not every movie has to be gritty and realistic. Also going forward from here if we don’t see more Colin Firth action movies I will be quite sad as he officially became a badass with this film. Sure to become a classic Kingsman is a must see.

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Jupiter Ascending

There’s one thing you can say about the Wachowski sibling’s new film Jupiter Ascending, it is a movie that exists containing both audio and visual elements. But enough about the positives lets talk about the bad… namely everything else. Whew what a stinker! After the brilliant but polarizing Cloud Atlas the Wachowskis seemed poised to make a comeback, if not financially at least creatively. Sadly Jupiter Ascending is not going to be that comeback film for them.

The film is a mess from beginning to end. The performances, the writing, the direction, even the score never gels to be anything  other than laughably bad. If someone took the time to measure the amount of script dedicated to exposition I would bet anything that at least forty percent of the dialogue in this film was straight up expository drivel. Which makes the fact that the film is so hard to follow that much more criminal. The filmmakers really swung for the fences in terms of world building, they unfortunately struck out, but it’s still commendable that they tried to build a complete new universe from the ground up. A universe where people are spliced with animals for hilarious effect, we get to see rat people, people with giant animal ears, Channing Tatum as a dog person, even an elephant man. All for no real discernible reason.  Theres also a race of lizard-like dragon creatures, whether they too are a human hybrid or some other race all together we don’t know because the film is too busy explaining the other five thousand names for things and rules they made up. More than once we are given several different names for things with the explanation that “this is known by many names such as…”. Yes, we understand that in any culture some things can be known by several names, but for the love of god why does this movie need to provide all these alternate names for the movies macguffins? Especially since they then pick one name  to refer to for the rest of the film.

Another area where the film feels especially clunky is in its transitions from scene to scene. The film is so overstuffed that every three minutes we see another sequence of a random ship flying through space and/or portals to new destinations. There is no flow to these transitions we just find ourselves moved from location to location. Quite often the change of location is only to give us another long-winded scene of exposition, why couldn’t we have just stayed in the last location to receive this new information? Cause reasons that’s why!

There is a future for this film despite all its flaws though. You can put money on the fact that people will be watching this movie for years to come for one very good reason, it’s so bad it’s almost good. Like The Room or Birdemic and countless MST3K movies Jupiter Ascending is such a mess, so ridiculous, so terribly written and badly acted that once you can watch it with a group of friends and a lot of alcohol there will be many things to enjoy. Moments like Mila Kunis getting horny over a blonde haired dog man, or the time we learned that “Bees are genetically engineered to recognize and respect royalty, and BEEs DO NOT LIE!”, and lest we forget the time a man with an elephant’s trunk for a nose trumpets into battle. Oh and every scene with Eddie Redmayne is like Nicholas Cage and Riff Raff from Rocky Horror had some drug addled psycho love child. It’s amazing that at the same time he could very well win an Oscar, Eddie might also be in a movie that will likely win him a Razzie next year. Take all of these wonderful things along with some creepy incestuous moments in the film and you have a perfect mix for the next cult classic. I look forward to online shows like “How Did this Get Made?” and “Nostalgia Critic” tearing the film apart in the next few years for our enjoyment.

Now most films have at least one thing they did right and Jupiter Ascending is no exception. Most of the effects work is exceptional, while the scenarios might be ridiculous and nonsensical, at least the visuals are achieved in a beautiful technically proficient way. It’s part of the reason that the lack of any real tension or drama is such a shame. We get these gorgeous action scenes but the staging is so boring and the characters so two-dimensional that we never feel anything for them. There is one scene that probably would have to be the high point of the film, we basically get a Terry Gilliam inspired DMV in space. Fittingly Gilliam makes a cameo in this sequence and it’s actually a pretty funny bit, although it retreads the same ground as Brazil and Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy but unfortunately this section is all too short and not nearly enough to save the film.

Now if you still insist on seeing the movie there is one way to get some enjoyment out of it. We have Channing Tatum with gravity boots leaping all over the place with his friend Sean Bean, trying to save Mila Kunis a girl of royal descent who is constantly being abducted by strange animal creatures including giant dragon men. While you watch the film just pretend that Sean Bean is Mario, Tatum is Luigi, and Mila Kunis is Princess Peach being kidnapped by Bowser, yes the Wachowskis have made their Version of the Super Mario Brothers Movie!

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