Slowly catching up on the backlog of reviews…
Kingsman: The Secret Service is the latest film adaptation of a Mark Millar comic, following the woeful Kick-Ass 2. A secret organisation of gentlemen, the Kingsmen, have appointed themselves defenders of the status quo. Following the death of one of their number, they start a recruitment process. Which of the fresh young things will be good enough to join the secret heroes? Will it be one of the snooty posh guys? Maybe the single female candidate? Or will it be the fish-out-of-water, comes-from-a-broken-home, bit-of-a-patchy-criminal-history, &c., &c., &c.?
Meanwhile, the Kingsmen have a problem of their own. A wealthy environmentalist has decided that the majority of the world’s human population needs to go extinct in order to preserve the planet. He will achieve this by using technology to provoke the undesirables into murderous rage while he and his chosen elites hide away in some sort of supervillain lair.
Let’s start with the basics: the film is fantastic. Go see it. It fills you with glee.
But what’s really going on at the heart of this film?
The villain (played by Samuel L Jackson) is a wealthy man. He sees a problem with the world and he unilaterally decides to fix it. The heroes, on the other hand, form a group of wealthy men who see a problem with the world and unilaterally decide to fix it. The villain uses his superior technology to effect his will. The heroes use their superior technology to beat up proles in the pub.
What is distinguishing the villains from the heroes? The heroes stand for nothing except the preservation of the status quo. Their culture is inherently classist: to be a hero, you have to affect class and dignity. The villain, on the other hand, eats McDonald’s and wears sportswear.
In the Kingsman world, there’s no monopoly on legitimate violence. The State is practically non-existent when it comes to the affairs of the wealthy elites — the protagonist only encounters the police when he gets involved in a bar fight and steals a car. They don’t appear when the protagonist’s mother is subject to domestic violence. They don’t appear when the wealthy environmentalist tries to wipe out nine-tenths of the world’s population.
This blurriness about guilt extends to other scenes in the movie. At one point, one of the heroes ends up in a hate church. The parishioners there are saying all kinds of horrible things about marginalised people and, in my glorious utopia, would be shut down by s18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. But do they deserve to be slaughtered en masse? The film thinks that they’re deserving of punishment, with one of the heroes raging out and brutalising the congregation with advanced weaponry.
Perhaps the villain has a point? Maybe there is some argument to be made that decimating the human population is the only way to secure a future for humanity. No doubt, it would be some kind of consequentialist argument — the future happiness of a larger number of (potential) people outweighs the current suffering of a smaller number of (actual) people. Or something. I’ve never quite understood consequentialists.
But this element of the film isn’t explored. Instead, the villain is a stock environmentalist: humans are evil and need to be shepherded by an enlightened superior. The heroes are justified in punishing him because they are stock conservatives: interfering with the status quo is evil and humanity needs to be shepherded by enlightened superiors.
Don’t get me wrong. As a conservative myself, I basically agree with the premise of the film.
But it’s the apparent lack of awareness about the socio-political aspects of the film that bothers me. I wanted the deadbeat wifebeater who hangs out in the pub to be punished, but was it really punishment when it came at the hands of an economic superior against whom the bum had no possibility of defending? This is a privileged guy wailing on the underclasses. It’s not punishment.
In the end, perhaps I was expecting too much from a film from the same guys who played ‘rape as punishment’ as comedic relief in Kick-Ass 2.