I loved Mark Millar’s The Secret Service comic. It was weird and funny and bold for your standard spy-novel comic. I didn’t get to see the film adaptation when it came out, but heard a few people (I trust) say something very similar about the movie.
Film critics who had also read the comic made sure, however, to warn comic fans that the story deviated significantly from the book. I was glad for that warning – it protected me from fanboy shock and allowed me to enjoy the movie on its own merits.
There are two types of spy-movie fans: traditionalists and anarchists. Traditional audiences are why James Bond movies still succeed. Even the most ambitious of Bond films still holds to a few types. A lone, solitary government agent who lives a life of almost perfect discipline and who is adept in every social context foils the plans of a unsuspicious individual whose desire for power and/or revenge has made him/her into a villain. Even spy movies outside the Bond franchise hold to these cliches.
Anarchists want to blow the whole system apart. Give us a messy spy, give us a spy who’s not good at his job, give us a villain we can’t sympathize with…make it weird! This is quite hard, it seems, because so few spy movies with surreal tones have succeeded in the world at large.
In the comic, Millar’s the anarchist. He’s doing things we don’t expect and telling the story he wants to tell. It makes for a colorful, constantly surprising, laughable spy story (which are in short supply!) But no movie could be that odd and still go for a mainstream popcorn movie crowd, right?
This one does.
I loved Kingsman because it found a way to thread the needle. It kept the weird, dark, fantasy-world of the book but pillared them with solid spy-movie expectations. Consider a few examples (no spoilers) of tradition meeting anarchy.
- The stoic, socially acceptable, impeccably trained spy does amazing things. As done his unprepared, offensive, intuitive counterpart. Neither one of them carry the mission alone.
- The villain has an odd agenda but also has a comical henchman.
- The spy agency has been influential in world affairs for years but has done so under weird auspices (even for a spy movie.)
This duality comes up again and again in the movie, which is perfect for the movie fan who likes both types of espionage storytelling. As to whether the world at large likes a movie that works so hard at straddling the serious and the surreal, who knows? But it was just silly enough to get this spy movie fan excited.
*One last thought. I don’t like to be the old man about stuff like this – you don’t often hear me going, “that movie would’ve been perfect without all them CURSE WORDS!” But I gotta’ say the sex joke that bookended the final action sequence was pretty lazy. Crude for sure, but also lazy. In writing, shouldn’t even our jokes propel the narrative? Do we really think Eggsy wouldn’t have gone running into battle without that joke setup?