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?
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!