Kingsman – More Badass Than Bond?

Note: This is another post where I don’t mention webcomics, but talk about a movie; but at least, it’s a movie based on a graphic novel: Kingsman.

Of course, I’m not writing a review in the classical sense. If the word praise doesn’t betray my reluctance to highlight flaws and problems, and the word provocative doesn’t betray my unwillingness to restrain myself from deriving lessons about storytelling in general rather than focusing on the item under review, then the word scrutinizing should make it clear that I will discuss the movie in depth without regard to spoilers, and with the expectation that the reader has watched the movie to know what I’m talking about.

Anyway, I went to see the movie last Friday, expecting it, informed by the trailer, to be dramatic, violent, actionesque (I just made that word up, I believe), irreverent, and amusing. Without doubt, it is all of this.

I was skeptical, however, about the claim that it is more badass than Bond. In my humble opinion, it really delivers on that promise.

I didn’t expect it to become an object of my most diligent scrutiny. Turns out, it is an example for superb storytelling.

All of this doesn’t mean that Kingsman is indisputably an exceptionally good movie, or in fact better than Bond. What superb storytelling really means that the story as given was carefully constructed and very well executed, and everybody involved did a great job.

In other words, I don’t claim that it is an extremely good story. What I’m trying to convey here is that the story, whatever its merit, was told exceptionally well.

Now, you could certainly argue that the fight choreography (and maybe even some dialog) was artificial, the violence gratuitous, and villain’s plan overblown, and the whole premise unrealistic. Just like you could argue that Swan Lake is artificial, Hamlet is full of gratuitous violence, the world-building of The Pirates Of either Penceance or The Caribbean is overblown, and Mozart was an idiot because it is totally unrealistic that a man would start singing a duet with his rival who just pronounced the supposed infidelity of his lover.

I seek to understand any story on its own terms, within the form it’s been molded in, and to look for cohesion, for internal consistency, rather than chasing after the flimsiness of realism or verisimilitude. Let’s see what we will find out.

As always, you are invited to chime in with your thoughts on the matter in the comments.

But since the most important issues cannot be discussed without MAJOR SPOILERS, you may want to go see the movie first, or steel yourself to bear them with composure, before you continue … (Also, make sure you are okay with a candid discussion of violence in fiction, because …)

If you are still with me, you may wonder: Do I really think that Kingsman is more badass than Bond?

Inconceivable!

You keep using that word. I don’t think it means what you think it means.

No, not that word. I’m referring to badass.

Even after having watched only half of the show, I learned to measure badass against a new standard, namely Breaking Bad -ass.

The difference between badass and Breaking Bad -ass is the difference between sporting fancy outfits, driving cool cars, xxxxxxx beautiful buxom women, spying around with limited regard to operational security, and occationally partaking in a fisticuff, knife-fight, shooting or any similarly enjoyable activity, with style, on one side, and shooting an important character, which the audience has learned to love in the course of considerable (screen) time, from a short distance in the head.

Seriously, this is storytelling power that can only be exercised with an ensemble cast.

Similar effects in a Bond movie require the Secret Service equivalent of the Redshirt: The double-zero agent whose third number does not equal seven. Such a number has even more predictive power than a red shirt; after all, Redshirts survive their assignment surprisingly often.

Killing Harry as the turning point for the third act was, in my humble opinion, the single most important storytelling decision of the whole movie. It establishes a sense of reality, of deepness, of true character, that no single-hero centric could ever hope to achieve. All the talk about Kingsman being even less realistic than a Bond movie, which can probably be supported by as many examples that are technically correct as it can be refuted, doesn’t change that.

Editor’s Note: By a rather strange coincidence, two of my favorite webcomics, Galaxion and Deep Dive Daredevils, killed a non-redshirt today (in one case one of the protagonists, in the other case the newly-wedded hero’s father-in-law, at the day of the wedding).

Add to that the fact that, after Harry was killed, there was Merlin who could take over as a quasi-mentor and provide guidance and support, a role for which he was established with carefully laid groundwork.

Another benefit from the ensemble cast is that the training of the recruits and the operation of the active agents can be given equal weight during the first half of the movie. And the training itself was brillantly depicted in all its blood, sweat, tears, and glory. This avoids the quite typical Hero’s Journey pitfall of meh, this lad is a dumbass, doesn’t really learn anything other than philosophical bullshit, and succeeds anyway because he’s the chosen one. Compared to this, any discussion of Eggsy’s final fights being unrealistic totally misses the point: The guys succeed because of their training, their technology, their brainpower, and, of course, the necessary amount of luck.

You know how much I care about diligence on details, so it’s not surprising how much I loved the lovely arranged details and the wonderfully crafted plot of Kingsman with its multitude of plant and payoffs. Just a few examples:

  • The drinking glass in the sequence where Lancelot dies, which is transferred without spillage from one assassin to the next
  • The bar scene and its reprise in mid-credit
  • The training, which demonstrated its philosophy by example, rather than with many words
  • The sleigh-of-hands, which was not only well planted, but also important because it shows how a Kingsman is even more than his training
  • The fright of heights, shown first during the traing, became important when the satellite needed to be shot down

But one of the coolest thing in Kingsman was the treatment of the What does it mean to be a gentleman? question. Instead of the usual fauxosophical monologue – or discussion – that sometimes either derail action movies or ends up as a fart in the wind, they talked the walk (especially Harry, but in his own way, also Merlin), and they walked the talk.

So coming back to the original question: Kingsman did not aspire to be better than its fellow action movies. It aspired to be better than its former self. (Concepts, drafts, storyboards, not quite perfect first takes, etc.)

You may say what you want about Kingsman, I found it intriguing and inspiring far beyond my expectation.

Whether you agree or disagree, let us know about your ideas in the comments.

See you next week!

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11 comments

  1. As much as I liked this movie (and I really really did), because it’s indeed a masterfully done piece of action-oriented story, made by people who know what they’re doing, proud of it but not pretentious about it, there are a couple of plot points that I have to nitpick against. So yeah spoilers ahoy.

    The very first nitpick being “WHY THE HELL DID YOU SEND YOUR BEST AGENT ON A SIDE MISSION WHERE SHE’LL BE ON UNEASY (lack of) GROUND WHILE PUTTING THE REJECTED RECRUIT ON THE ACTUAL WORLD-SAVING MAIN MISSION ?”

    Granted, the movie is about the rejected recruit, and it would have been lackluster if he waited in the middle of nowhere the same way she did. But it’s been said SHE is the very best, while it’s been shown she’s very nervous in freefall/parachutism situations. On the other hand, the reject is a skilled sniper and has no problem with the aforementioned situations. Why did Merlin put the mission at risk by switching them that way ?

    Another point, a lot smaller, a lot more subjective too, is “Did you really need to make a wuss of the rival ?” The boy was good enough to stay ’til the end, it would have been nice if he had been represented as something more than merely a snobby brat. The movie would have been lengthened by what, five minutes ? If after the “prove your devotion to the cause” scene they’d added a duel deciding who’s the real Lancelot. They didn’t need to show it all either, after all, the girl is supposedly the very best, of course she’d win. And they’d be at the exact same place afterwards. About every other character is a stereotype with a twist, so, why not him too ?

    Besides that, I really, tremendously, enjoyed watching Kingsman and it’s not something that happens that often with that genre. I LOVED the bad guys and their interactions with each other, even if they’re over-the-top characters, their relation is really believable. I want to watch it again, but I’m kinda scared that it’ll break the charm the same way it did for the rebooted Star Trek movie…

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    1. Thanks for pointing out abother great thing about this movie: The villains were just the right kind of crazy, Especially compared to my second most recent dirty pleasure movie, Guardians of the Galaxy, with its master villain who just sits in that chair all day long.

      The ostensibly reason to send Eggsy instead of Lacelot into the lair was that he could impersonate Arthur. How this was possible is another deep hole. He couldn’t even have passed TSA to enter the US in that disguise, but they let him into the most secret base just because he produces a piece of paper? Also, Athur had that chip in his head that the bad guys used to keep their conspirators in check and explode their head in case of need. How did they not notice that he died? Maybe the chip had to be disconnected while Arthur was in the Kingsman HQ?

      This brings me to my personal nitpick: Surveillance vs. countersurveillance wasn’t handled well. These guys bugged each other without ever checking for the other sides bugs. Also communications: How do you use radio from a bunker deep in the mountains?

      But I overlooked these, since I’ve never really seen this handled well anyway.

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  2. Regarding Lancelot, Dralou – She got SUCH a raw deal. It drove me crazy. They didn’t even give her a suit! When Eggsy told her “It’ll be GREAT when you get a suit!” it was such a slap to the face.

    I can’t say I was 100% on board with the movie. I felt like the tone was confused within it’s own boundaries and that the themes they tried to convey didn’t really hit home. (I recall the McDonald’s Scene in particular feeling very misguided.) For a movie that says it wants to divorce itself from Bond movies, it takes a lot of notes from them – Both for good and bad.

    What I liked was, of course, the crazy action! The church scene, if long, was extremely fun, and everything with the double amputee lady was gold.

    Speaking of her, my favorite part of the movie was the villains. They were ridiculous, their plan was ridiculous, but they were such a great duo. It was clear that they supported and respected each other and it made their relationship and their scenes interesting and fun.

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    1. I liked the McDonalds scene. But this is, no pun intended, a matter of taste.

      Thank you for pointing out the, ehem, suboptimal treatment of Lancelot.

      I still think that she got a far better deal than Gamorra, though.

      What I liked was how she was accepted into the organisation without even a raised eyebrow. Both the Old Boy cameradery and the Gentlemen style were broad enough to allow for that inclusion. There was just enough disconnect – e.g. when the target for winning over, in the biblical sense was a woman (which is a joke, possible slightly offensive, if we accept the clues that Lancelot was straight) – to give an additional air of reality.

      You are certainly right that they missed opportunities with Lancelot. As someone who is old enough to think of Emma Peel whenever The Avengers are mentioned, I couldn’t agree more. (To clarify: I’m not that old. I was born the year the last Emma Peel season was shot. So I didn’t see the show until it was already vintage.)

      Not that I would want Lancelot to look like Emma Peel, on the contrary. They just did so much cool stuff with her. Or rather, I meant to say, she did so much cool stuff.

      And the missed opportunities with her suit: The tailor has to consult a checklist because it’s the only the second or third time he has fitted a woman for a suit – also, he would have to call in a female assistant to actually measure Lancelot, wouldn’t he? – and then falls into a rut and asks “So, which side do you carry your … oh, never mind” … priceless! (Disclosure: Alas, I’ve never been fitted for a bespoke suit, so I can’t confirm that tailors actually do ask that.)

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      1. I’m not sure Lancelot’s THAT much better treated than Gamorrah, she’s very… hollow. She’s a support character, aaand that’s what we see her do, be supportive to the main character. We are told she’s the best of the lot, while never actually seeing her being awesome. The only time she’s the focus of the movie, it’s when she shows a weakness.
        But at least, she’s not merely a love interest. That’s already something. And the fact there are only one female recruit, can be explained that those Kingsmen can be old-school prejudiced in their reasoning.

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  3. Both characters ring sort of hollow, in my opinion. In Gamorrah’s case, some key scenes were cut and opportunities to develop her relationship to her sister were missed, which would have helped her a great deal. On the other hand, I didn’t feel like Lancelot had much in the material to be a great character to begin with. I got the sense that her arc began and ended with ‘I am nervous about heights, but it turned out alright.’

    I also appreciated that she wasn’t delegated to be the love interest, though. Having Eggsy hook up with the Princess at the end was very bond. 🙂

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    1. Sorry, I can feel, and even do share, your frustration, but there is an important difference:

      Gamorra, while not exactly posing as damsel-in-distress, had to be saved from mortal danger by the male hero, twice.

      Lancelot demonstrated her weakness, the fright of heights, which, as I being someone who would have the same problem can attest, is not indicative of female fragility, twice, but in both cases overcame it by her wn willpower, even if some moral support was neccessary.

      Of course, compared to Zoe Washburne, who went twice into the fortress of a crimelord who was protected by murderous mooks, and practiced torture as enjoyable pastime, one time unarmed and alone, to save her husband, the other time assisted by a band of – supposed – amateurs, to save her captain, … [sorry, even my eloquence has limits]

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      1. Agreed, both Gamorra and Lancelot really pale in comparison. But to be completely fair, Zoe is a veteran, while Lance is still new at all this, even if she had an intensive training beforehand. Gamorra has no excuse, though.

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  4. I agree, but not just because Zoe kicks a lot of ass – Lance and Gamorra just aren’t as interesting or fully realized characters.

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