Kingsman: The Secret Service
Christian Movie Review
[A note to some of my non-Christian readers: these reviews, besides analyzing the film craft and entertainment value of a film, are primarily intended to help Christian moviegoers interested in seeing a film understand what is in it — both the surface content and the subtle worldviews that inform a film — much how a product review helps a consumer make informed decisions about buying a product. Please keep that in mind before sending hateful comments filled with poor assumptions about my intent in writing these reviews.]
Yes, the incredibly talented Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker from “Star Wars”) is in this movie. I’ll get to his role in the film in a minute.
The plot, as summarized by IMDB’s page on Kingsman: “A spy organization recruits an unrefined, but promising street kid into the agency’s ultra-competitive training program just as a global threat emerges from a twisted tech genius.”
The R-rated “Kingsman: The Secret Service” is a giddy confetti explosion of grey matter, gleefully gory nihilistic violence, English accents, and about 100+ f-words — all while peppering the audience with humorous, self-conscious storytelling and a postmodern mash-up of the spy movie genre (which is very well done, I might add).
The movie takes the spy genre to new R-rated extremes. One scene (which, if I remember correctly, was shot in a single jaw-dropping long take with very complicated, choreographed action — a very impressive technical feat) depicts a gory kill-fest in a church where dozens of religious people (alleged “Christians” being portrayed in the worst light possible as the worst kind of bigots imaginable) are graphically sliced, diced, shot, beheaded, impaled, burned with fire, or crushed. And all of it is portrayed with a sense of lingering enjoyment on-screen as if the filmmakers had made a highlight reel of their favorite moments in sports.
After that scene finished — this gruesome scene in which so-called “Christians” portrayed in the worst light imaginable are graphically murdered — someone in the theater clapped and cheered because the religious people were killed. At that moment I began to wonder if Samuel L. Jackson’s psychotic villain character Valentine had slipped in to watch the movie with us. (Actually, no, that couldn’t have been him, because his villainous character gets queasy at the sight of blood, a plot point used for irony and comic relief.)
The film ends with a scene in which casual sex with a stranger (which is described in graphic terms and amplified with nudity) is the ultimate reward for the hero after he saves the world.
So, in other words, I’m guessing this film isn’t going to be a big hit in the faith-based movie-going community. Just a wild guess.
Ironically, the film’s portrayal of a chivalric code of honor and gentlemanly manners among the Kingsman spies — while probably my favorite part of the movie — creates a striking, almost dizzying contrast with the film’s rapturous indulgence in death-as-entertainment. The Kingsman spies value human life, and the teenage protagonist, Eggsy, has a heart of gold who goes to great lengths to save lives and defend the helpless. They’re self-sacrificing and noble through and through — like knights. But the way the filmmakers use gory violence as a means of indulgent, “fun” entertainment contradicts the mindset of its heroes.
This might be a good time to bring up a related topic. I’m aware that the Bible depicts plenty of violence and graphic sex. Please don’t misunderstand me. Inclusion of such content in a story does not automatically remove all redemptive value from a film. Here’s a superb excerpt from Brian Godawa’s book Hollywood Worldviews: Watching Films with Wisdom and Discernment that explains what I mean:
…not all accounts of sex and violence are intrinsically immoral. It is the context through which these misbehaviors are communicated that dictates their destructive or redemptive nature. It is not merely the detailed acts of violence portrayed in teen slasher series like Friday the 13th, Halloween or Hostel that make them detrimental to the minds of youth. It is that these acts exist within a nihilistic view of the world, with murder demythologized through diabolical detail and the existential association of sex with death. The devaluing of human life is realized through evil as entertainment. On the other hand, films like Schindler’s List, Braveheart, Letters from Iowa Jima and The Last King of Scotland portray equally graphic brutality, but their context is ultimately redemptive. That is, the depiction of man’s inhumanity toward man repulses, rather than entertains, and points toward redemption from such evil. Similar extremities of violence can issue from different contexts and produce opposite results. (Godawa 32)
Although the movie itself — as far as film craft — is well made with some great humor and thrilling action sequences, it seems, in my opinion, to lean toward a nihilistic mindset in which rampant destruction of human life becomes stylish entertainment.
And it seems to go out of its way to portray Protestant Christians in America in a horrendous light.
For example, the scene in the church features the pastor spewing all of these horrible slurs (and, as PluggedIn.com points out, the filmmakers might have modeled this scene after the late Fred Phelps’ scandalous Westboro Baptist Church ) — and then, very subtly, the pastor mentions mainstream Christian beliefs, such as a pro-life stance, in between all of the horrible bigoted comments. It’s a subtle tactic in demonizing an ideological opponent: you create an extremely unflattering, villainous character who says terrible things. And then in between all of the outrageous, villainous things the character is saying, you have him quietly state the view of your opponent.
That being said, it’s also an ambitiously irreverent movie that seems to shoot in all directions. The psychotic villain is an environmentalist, for example, and the world’s political elite from both sides of the political aisle are not portrayed in a very positive light. Most of them get their heads blown up.
[Spoiler Alert] And, frankly, it’s a shame that a rare big-screen appearance from the wonderfully talented and iconic Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker from Star Wars) is a role in which Samuel L. Jackson makes Mark Hamill’s head literally explode. It’s as if the Jedi Mace Windu (played by Samuel L. Jackson in the prequels) was seriously jealous of Luke Skywalker’s awesomeness. Or maybe Jackson was jealous that Hamill gets to appear in J.J. Abrams supremely awesome recapturing of the ’80s Star Wars magic.
So, if you’re a Christian (or a Mark Hamill fan who doesn’t want to see his head explode) who loves going to the movies and you love spy movies (as I do) and you’re wondering if you should drop $10+ on this movie, my personal opinion would be, “Save your money.” Some folks will relish the film’s over-the-top satire and too-cool-for-school tone (which is done very well), but, among other things, the nihilistic tendencies in the violence take the film in an unexpected and disappointing direction.
It’s a shame, frankly. I loved the general concept of the film and was hugely excited to see this.