Tag Archives: Kingsman

One of the Ugliest Films I’ve Ever Seen — “Kingsman: The Secret Service”

by Gabriel Valdez

Look, the review section is going to address the middling craft and storytelling behind this film. Then the Bechdel section is going to rip the utter bejesus out of everything that’s left. Just be warned:

Kingsman: The Secret Service is a movie that has no idea what it wants to be. It follows Eggsy (Taron Egerton), a young Englander who grows up without a father. His dad sacrificed himself for his team on the kind of mission that James Bond makes his bread and butter, and Eggsy wears a medal around his neck he can never show to anyone else. Eggsy’s life consists of getting into trouble and watching out for his mom, who doesn’t have the best choice in boyfriends.

Eggsy is whisked off to a spy school in much the same way Harry Potter is taken to Hogwarts. The first half of Kingsman is as solid as you could ask for, alternating between Eggsy’s training and a mission to save the world being carried out by his sponsor Harry (Colin Firth).

Inevitably, Eggsy is drawn into the mission itself, which pits his team against a villain named Valentine who’s so upset global warming will destroy humankind that he decides to, um, destroy humankind. Just take that kind of logic on faith – the villain’s played by Samuel L. Jackson, who seems to be the only one aware of what a cheeseball movie he’s actually in.

These sorts of plots are also where the film starts to come apart. When a writer (Jane Goldman) and director (Matthew Vaughn) are so obsessed with pushing a political agenda that it shoves everything else in the movie to the side, it becomes uncomfortable.

Any kind of message – liberal or conservative – that guts a film so completely of its story is a problem. The message in Kingsman is conservative. The last movie that did this so egregiously was the liberal-minded remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still. I don’t care what your politics are – if they’re such a priority that a popcorn movie feels more like chastisement than entertainment, the movie’s failed. A movie can have politics in it, yes, but it still has to prioritize being a movie and telling a story.

It’s a shame – Kingsman boasts a well crafted first half and offers some exceptionally choreographed, albeit horrendously violent, action. It just finds as many ways to shoot itself in the foot by the end as I’ve ever witnessed. It has too many politics and grudges to ring out, too many names to drop and meta commentaries to make. If you can’t tell Kingsman is a riff on the spy genre an hour in, don’t worry – characters will stop everything to remind you many, many times.

That’s not even bringing up the McDonald’s product placement, which tries to involve the ad as a meta joke the same way Wayne’s World and Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby have in the past. As it does with many elements, Kingsman feels too unsure of itself to fully commit to the joke – instead of characters nodding and winking at the camera, you end up with Colin Firth and Samuel L. Jackson awkwardly grinding their way through a minute-long in-film ad.

That’s too often the feeling in Kingsman. It criticizes spy movies for being too political, then it obsesses over being political. It insists action movies are too serious and have forgotten how to be light-hearted, and minutes later it’s engaging in an extended sequence where civilians tear each other apart in bloody chunks. If anywhere, this is where the film should nod and wink, a la Shaun of the Dead, but this is where Kingsman doubles down and wants to show you how good it can really be at all the things it just insisted shouldn’t matter.

I love bloody action and rude humor in my films, and even I felt like I had to take a shower after Kingsman. It’s not any worse than a brutal horror movie or the average episode of South Park, but it spends two hours selling you on the idea that these things shouldn’t be part of action movies before turning around and relenting to each of them anyway. It leaves you feeling confused, disappointed, and a little betrayed. Maybe it’s just trying to troll its entire audience. If so, mission accomplished.

In many ways, Kingsman ends up being the polar opposite of last week’s action movie, Jupiter Ascending. Kingsman is a movie that’s not enough of anything to feel very satisfying. Jupiter Ascending is a movie that’s too much of everything. Given the choice, I’d rather be overwhelmed than underwhelmed. If you only have time for one action movie, stick with Jupiter Ascending.

Does it Pass the Bechdel Test?

This section helps us discuss one aspect of movies that we’d like to see improved – the representation of women. Read why we’re including this section here.

1. Does Kingsman: The Secret Service have more than one woman in it?

Yes. Samantha Womack plays Eggsy’s mother. Sofia Boutella plays a baddie named Gazelle. Sophie Cookson plays spy school companion Roxy. Fiona Hampton plays spy school companion Amelia. Hanna Alstrom plays an imprisoned princess.

2. Do they talk to each other?

No. For one very brief moment, both Roxy and Amelia talk to Eggsy, about Eggsy.

3. About something other than a man?

Well, they didn’t pass #2 so this is moot, but women do occasionally talk to men about the sinister plot at the film’s center, when they’re not talking about Eggsy or Valentine.

Look, this movie is, for lack of a better way of putting it, patriarchal as fuck. Eggsy’s mother exists so that he can save her. Gazelle (an amputee who fights with sword-like blade legs) exists so we can fetishize her. It’s also strongly hinted that she’s the sexual reward of the villain, being played by an actor more than twice her age.

Even when the film gives a woman a victory, as happens late in the spy school sequence, the victory is because she’s proven herself to be heartless and have no loyalty. In other words, the single victory given to a woman in the film is due to her not being as good as Eggsy. In storytelling terms, it’s really Eggsy’s victory we admire.

The single reward given to a woman in the movie is to cheer on the men at the end.

And the movie ends with a male hero being rewarded with anal sex from a princess he rescues.

This is all before considering that every hero is a white male and the two villains are an African-American man with a lisp (Samuel L. Jackson) and a differently abled Arab woman (Sofia Boutella).

It’s also worth noting, as Vanessa Tottle has pointed out, that all the soldiers who face our hero are male. This isn’t to save violence against women either – there are sequences where civilians brutally murder each other and women are murdered in the dozens here. If you’re going to do that, then include some female soldiers, too. Otherwise, you’re not being bold, you’re just being exploitative.

The film makes noises toward being anti-aristocratic, but it’s a bit of a false flag – in the end, the movie trumpets all the values of aristocracy and being member to the ruling class.

As damaging as anything else – and this is leaving the Bechdel realm for the moment – we live in a world where dangerous elements in the U.S. believe that President Barack Obama is a villain who is working to destroy our country at the behest of real-world villains. These real-world villains always belong to non-white ethnicities. The dangerous radicals in the U.S. who believe these things talk openly about assassination.

Very minor spoiler ahead: in Kingsman, the villain Valentine has the ear of Obama and convinces him to help destroy the human race. Two African-American men form a conspiracy to destroy the world. In the end, Obama is killed because of this conspiracy. His head is exploded, albeit in pretty colors, and I can’t help but think back to the last president who died that way. Kingsman wants to play this act off as some kind of joke, but coupled with everything else the movie says and does, it’s dangerous and mind-numbingly irresponsible filmmaking.

Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn have every right to place this kind of thing in their movie. Britain and the U.S. are free countries, after all. But, as the line goes, freedom of speech does not mean freedom from criticism, and the movie they’ve constructed not only fails to work as a movie, it encourages some of the worst and most dangerous misogynistic and political perspectives I’ve ever seen put to film.

I try to find the good and the worthy in everything I see. Even if I don’t like a movie, I endeavor to communicate who will like the movie. Sometimes I come across something that – I understand exactly who will like the movie, and that worries me. It worries me that a movie can encourage perspectives of hatred and ownership by making those perspectives seem heroic. It takes characters who seem weak, attributes them with all the worst better-than-thou attitudes our society has to offer, and rewards them for embracing and exemplifying these attitudes. Kingsman is one of the ugliest, most uncomfortable movies I have seen in my life. It is bitterly disappointing.

Most Anticipated Movies of 2015: Cameron Crowe, Patrick Stewart, & The Tom Hardy Dream — #40-31

Tom Hardy Legend

by Gabriel Valdez

I have a problem: Nearly all the “Most Anticipated” lists I come across seem to be countdowns of which 2015 movies have the largest budgets. The top few are always the same: Avengers, Star Wars, Jurassic World, Spectre, Mission: Impossible. I’m looking forward to all these sequels, sure, but how many critics do you think will really put those films in their year-end Top 10s? How many will turn around mid-year and write the ridiculous argument that Hollywood is dying because of sequels and remakes?

My biggest problem with these lists is that none of them include movies made by women, foreign films, or horror. Few of them include very diverse films. No sci-fi is included unless $200 million was spent putting giant robots in it. I’m not saying there should be a quota. I’m just saying that, in the current system, if you don’t do your research, everyone’s going to be listing the same films you’ve already seen 80 trailers for.

I’d rather see personal lists than budget countdowns. I’ve got two sequels or remakes in my Top 20 Most Anticipated Films, and I’m not even someone who has anything against sequels and remakes. I happen to think they’re not killing Hollywood and that, if you look at the history of film, those two things have been around almost as long as movies have. The years 1908-1910 saw a franchise of no less than six Sherlock Holmes movies made. The Fall of a Nation was the first big-budget studio sequel, in 1916. The Wizard of Oz was made on film more than two dozen times before we got to the “original” Judy Garland version that we often claim any remake of is tantamount to sacrilege. Let’s not even mention Romeo and Juliet or A Christmas Carol.

I know I’m arguing for both sides here, but when every Most Anticipated list names the same exact movies, and it feels like there’s a budget requirement for being on the list in the first place, it just doesn’t feel like those lists are digging very deep or telling you anything you don’t already know. In which case: what’s the point of the damn list?

I’ll tell you three big films that are missing from my list, and why: Jurassic World? I’ve seen the original Jurassic Park more than 80 times. (I like to think I’m Orson Welles when he watched Stagecoach dozens of times in a row.) But the Jurassic World trailer, while showing off some pretty sights, also looks like it’s advertising a really bad movie.

Spectre? Of all the Daniel Craig James Bonds, Skyfall is the only one I feel no need to revisit. Director Sam Mendes is as talented as it gets, but he was given a franchise in which he let his most egregious sensibilities and blatant misogyny shine through. Yeah, I get it: Sam Mendes really hates women. If I wanted to see that in my Bond again, I’d pop in some late-era Roger Moore. I look at Spectre and it feels like a chore of rehashing extinct clichés and attitudes without any awareness as to how the world’s changed. We already have 20 James Bond movies like that. It stops being interesting. I thought we’d moved on.

Mission: Impossible V? I’m really excited for it, but every M:I film brings a new director and a whole new style. I admire that approach to making sequels, but it also means I have a wait-and-see attitude to each new entry.

So what is on the list? Let’s talk about the first ten entries:


“Hah, what a hypocrite!” you’re thinking. But as up and down as this franchise is, let me tell you something about why it does so well: Vin Diesel. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Michelle Rodriguez. Jordana Brewster. Tyrese Gibson. Sung Kang. Ludacris. Now Nathalie Emmanuel. Here are African-American, Polynesian, Hispanic, and Korean action heroes – many of them women – who aren’t just sidekicks, but are leads. Maybe the Fast & Furious franchise wouldn’t be as much fun to watch if we had other films where these kinds of characters could avenge and assemble, but without those other films, this is the franchise that gives us the big-budget heroes a good number of us don’t get anywhere else.

Add in that this entry is directed by Malaysian-born horror director James Wan, who’s given us both Insidious and The Conjuring, and my interest is well piqued. And that’s before we even talk about this being the last film for the late Paul Walker, an actor many admired just as much for his humanity as for what he did on-screen.


One film you’ve heard of, one you haven’t is a good way to start. Winter Sleep is a Turkish movie directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan, whose previous work is nothing short of stunning. It concerns an aging actor at odds with his younger wife and his recently divorced sister, and what those relationships become when trapped together for the winter in the hotel they run. The beautiful-looking film won a Palme d’Or at Cannes and the Directing award at the Asia Pacific Screen Awards. No North American release date is set.

The Man From Uncle


Many of us wrote Guy Ritchie off as a flash in the pan after his passion project Swept Away with his then-wife Madonna. That was 2002. In 2008, he reannounced himself into the genre of British low gangster comedy he helped to create, adding RocknRolla to a resume that included Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch.

Then came his two Sherlock Holmes movies starring Robert Downey Jr. Hilarious, a bit creepy, and surprisingly artful, these were Ritchie finally finding his groove. Now comes The Man from UNCLE, and the opportunity to see what Ritchie does to the Cold War in the 1960s feels too good to pass up. Starring Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer as a CIA and KGB agent forced to work together, one might expect the same sort of semi-married couple banter he gave to Holmes and Watson. August 14.


Any fan of Star Trek has to admit that, even in his 40s, Patrick Stewart was always a bit stiff. He found great nuance and emotion in that stodginess, but dear god, he was proper. The opportunity to see him stretch his wings outside of the role of a strict yet endearing father figure seems rather rare. In this adaptation of the Broadway play, Stewart plays a Juilliard dance professor who is approached by a young couple (Carla Gugino and Matthew Lillard, both vastly underrated). They want to interview him, but it becomes clear that they have other motives in mind, and a complicated three-way tug-of-war over obsessions both past and present begins to develop. January 14/Already out, but good luck finding it.


If you were dying at an old age, and had the opportunity to take over the body of someone younger, relive life with all the advantages of youth once more, would you do it? Comedies take away the responsibility by having you transport into your own, younger self, and relive life with the lessons you know now. But what if that younger person was someone else alive today?

Starring Ben Kingsley, Ryan Reynolds, Michelle Dockery, and Matthew Goode, this wouldn’t make the list on its own. But you put a director like Tarsem Singh on board, and his unparalleled (yet very hit-or-miss) visual sense suddenly threatens to take this into unexpected territory. Toss in a mystery about where the younger body comes from and a secret society and suddenly it all makes perfect Tarsem sense. July 31.

Since there are no trailers or promotional images yet, above is the trailer for Tarsem’s masterpiece and the Official Best Movie You’ve Never Seen: The Fall. If you love cinema, it’s a movie you cannot pass up.

St James Place Spielberg Hanks


Well, if Tarsem is the director from whom you never know what to expect, Steven Spielberg is the director in whom you can always rely. Teaming up with Tom Hanks in a surprisingly under-the-radar cold war spy thriller, there’s only one thing that gives me pause. And that is, surprisingly, the Coen Brothers, who co-wrote the screenplay with Matt Charman. Simply put, their last effort on Unbroken was abominable, and no director was forced to do more to save a film from its screenplay last year than Angelina Jolie.

A shoddy effort like that for Spielberg, and no one’s going to be blaming the director anymore. The Coens have a phenomenal track record, but they were the one thing holding Unbroken back, and they were doing it in historic style. So let’s hope they shape up here, because the idea of a classically Coen-written, Spielberg-directed, Hanks-starring thriller is awfully tempting.

It may or may not be named St. James Place when it finally comes out on October 16.

Untitled Cameron Crowe Bradley Cooper Emma Stone


Just savor that description above: “Untitled Cameron Crowe Defense Industry Romance.” What? In my heart of hearts, I imagine a reality in which that’s the actual title they release the film under. It stars Bradley Cooper as a military contractor who falls for his Air Force overseer. It co-stars three of the best film comedians working today: Emma Stone, Rachel McAdams, and some guy named Bill Murray, as well as Alec Baldwin and John Krasinski.

From the writer-director of Almost Famous and We Bought a Zoo, it’s too soon to tell if it’ll take on the defense industry the same way Crowe once took on the professional sports industry in Jerry Maguire. But Crowe, and that cast? And a movie which leaked Sony e-mails (the gift that keeps on giving) reveals made studio heads extremely nervous? Sign me way the hell up. May 29.


From David Robert Mitchell comes a low budget horror movie that’s been earning comparisons to John Carpenter’s best work on the festival circuit. Even the trailer is creepy by way of being smart. The conceit at the center plays like The Ring: Something horrific follows you and makes your life hell until you pass it along to someone else. Yet it plays the passing of that conceit into metaphorical date rape territory, and in so doing begins to speak about a horror that’s just as cultural and personal, not just supernatural. That’s the kind of thing that gets under your skin, that turns a horror movie from cliché fun to, in the words of David Fincher, “movies that scar.”

I’m always interested in the movies that seek to scar and have a reason for doing so, because they can confront audiences in a way other movies aren’t allowed. Horror often allows the best opportunity to do that. March 27.

Legend Hardy and Hardy


If 2015 in movies is about one thing, it’s cold war spy thrillers. If it’s about two things, it’s cold war spy thrillers and gangster movies. So how about a cold war gangster movie? You see, identical twins are terrorizing 1950s London. They’re played by Tom Hardy and Tom Hardy. Yes, there are two Tom Hardys.

Moving on, it also stars- yes, I said two Tom Hardys. But the film’s also about- I’m sorry, did you ask if they both take their shirts off? I…well, I don’t know. But Emily Browning is a powerhouse Australian actress who’s been making- yes, I’m sure he speaks in that sexy, Tom Hardy accent. But I look forward to seeing director Brian Helgeland’s realization of London. After A Knight’s Tale and 42, he’s shown – do the two Tom Hardys kiss? They’re twins! Get your mind out of the gutter! Legend offers – no, I don’t know if there’s a poster with both of them on it. Do they have a flexing competition?!? They’re gangsters, they- do they have hearts of gold that make them worth saving? I’m telling you what I know, it’s – oh, forget it. All your Tom Hardy dreams come true on October 2.


Moving on to Colin Firth, thank god, Kingsman: The Secret Service looks – are there two Colin Firths in this? No! There’s just one Colin Firth and he’s, like, 100 years old and acting stodgy now. The single Colin Firth that stars in this movie works for an Avengers (think British Avengers)-like outfit that goes on secret missions that require them to save the world by riffing on the most ridiculous James Bond tropes. It’s directed by Matthew Vaughn, who saved the X-Men franchise, and – perhaps more importantly – it’s written with Jane Goldman, Vaughn’s partner-in-crime whose name no one knows despite adapting Stardust, Kick-Ass, and X-Men: First Class all into really good screenplays for Vaughn to direct.

My one worry for Kingsman is that it seems like all the heroes are able Caucasian stereotypes, while the villains are played by Samuel L. Jackson with a lisp and an amputee with blade legs. Could maybe change that up just a hair, but I don’t want to presume too much before I’ve actually seen the thing. February 13.

Stay tuned for our top 30.