Slick 'Kingsman' well-suited to juveniles

By Barry Paris / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Welcome to the pseudo-o-o-7 universe — 007.2, if you prefer — in which the classic James Bond film is deconstructed (and “celebrated”) by combining it with today’s dominant comic-book movie genre. For better or worse.

“Kingsman” is the name of the film and the privatized espionage organization run by suave gentlemen spies with Round Table aliases such as Galahad (Colin Firth) and Merlin (Mark Strong), who recruit a pedigreed street kid, Eggsy (Taron Egerton), from his life of petty crime into the agency's training program.

That hyper-competitive spy school, not unlike Harry Potter’s witches academy Hogwarts, is designed to weed out the physical and emotional wimps. One key test of fortitude involves choosing, training and bonding with an adorable puppy — and then shooting it.

If you survive the wimp-weeding, you get to confront the global plot of mad tech-genius Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson), a rogue climate-change environmentalist who has determined that the only way to save the planet is to decrease its surplus population. For handy identification and communication purposes, Valentine’s selected group of elite conspirators receive chip-implants in their heads, which will — oops! No spoilers.

British director Matthew Vaughn’s spy entry is the first of many to be released this year, including “Spectre,” the next James Bond outing; a fifth "Mission: Impossible" film; and “Man From U.N.C.L.E.” by Mr. Vaughn’s mentor, Guy Ritchie. Real-world spying has become so farcical — with drones piloted by subcontracted video game wizards — that the new slew of secret-agent sendups should be no surprise.

Among Mr. Vaughn’s previous credits are the superhero comedy “Kick-Ass” (2010) and the serio-superhero epic “X-Men: First Class” (2011). He co-scripted the film at hand with Jane Goldman, based on the comic book "Secret Service" by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons, as a kind of homage to the TV spy series he grew up with.

There’s not a believable moment — or the need to believe a moment — in it. It’s about the amusing tropes and gadgets, which include remote-activated poison pens, double-barreled hand pistols, 50,000-volt electrified rings, virtual reality spectacles, ammo-firing black designer umbrellas, smart watches that fire sleep darts, gold cigarette-lighter hand grenades,and shoes with poisoned pop-out tips (a rip-off of Lotte Lenya’s in “From Russia With Love”).

Mr. Firth (“King’s Speech”) evinces detached bemusement amid the mayhem and looks properly elegant in the title-based, high-end men’s clothing designs. He was evidently told to emulate David Niven in the “Casino Royale” Bondian spoof, rather than the bona fide Bonds of Sean Connery or Roger Moore. Both his manner and his horn-rimmed glasses are reminiscent of Michael Caine — who himself shows up, sleepwalking through a cameo role as the Kingman’s shadowy eminence grise.

Mr. Jackson’s villain is neither bemused nor amusing, with his incredibly annoying personality and equally objectionable Yankees baseball hats and diabolical schemes set to the dubious disco grooves of KC & the Sunshine Band's “Give It Up.” Mr. Jackson’s lengthy contract with Marvel Studios has resulted in six films thus far (two more to go), in which he and his characters have become a complete bore.

As hunky hero Eggsy, 25-year-old Welsh stuntman Egerton worked out for months to develop the six-pack abs necessary for his shirtless scenes.

“To see my body transform and then to have that there forever on screen is quite a nice feeling,” he said in an interview, adding, with no trace of irony, “For generations to come, we can all appreciate my abs.”

This boy has enviably clear priorities, if nothing else.

Director Vaughn, likewise, has refreshing candor: The goal of “Kingsman” is to be the first in a franchise series, he said. "That's the plan — otherwise someone's going to lose a lot of money!" Regarding which, a full Savile Row-type line of men’s clothing has been announced — the Kingsman brand deal — with suits starting around $1,750.

Place your advance orders through me — cash only, please. You can trust me.

But can you trust this kind of slick multiplex entertainment?

There are several fine set pieces. There’s delicious assassin Gazelle (Sofia Boutella) — the blade runner-up to Oscar Pretorius, with her artificial razor feet and fabulously absurd acrobatic displays. There’s a campy scene with Kung-Fu Colin single-handedly dispatching the entire congregation of a racist evangelical church.

Above all, there’s the grand finale — my favorite scene — which gives new meaning to the term “flip your lid.”

But beneath the post-modern, in-joke sophistication lurks the comic-book essence: primary male-fantasy violent appeal to juveniles with chips on their shoulders — as well as in their heads.

Barry Paris:

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