Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Politics of: Kingsman

You can get Kingsman: The Secret Service through Netflix (or buy the Blu-Ray if you're into that). It's the Kick-Ass team's take on the James Bond . . . or Jason Bourne . . . or, you know, maybe Jack Bauer genre of super-spies. It's just turned up to 11. Or maybe 12.

The first part of this review will be a regular review. The second part assumes you have seen it.

Kingsman: The Secret Service

Kingsman introduces to a world of super-spies well beyond even the most unrealistic Bonds or Bournes. These are bullet-dodging, horde-of-badguy fighting, secret weapon-laden super-agents who work for a mysterious "private" intelligence firm--and dress impeccably. The main character, however, isn't one of these spies--he's a British kid from the wrong side of the tracks.

It turns out his dad, however, may have had a connection to the Kingsman agency and when he makes contact with his past, he becomes entangled with the world-spanning espionage plotline.

For that, there's a super-villain with a dastardly plan that could destroy the world and his deformed/disabled henchwoman (in the tradition of Bond henchmen) who gives us a real reason to call someone who uses those prosthetic feet a "Blade Runner."

The movie is so far over the top it achieves escape velocity and takes flight in an odd orgy of ultra-violence, excellent fashion, and enough of the super-spy tropes to make you surprised when it breaks some of the rules.

Kingsman is undoubtedly high energy. Its cast including a very buff Colin Frith, a very likable Taron Egerton, and a very, very foul-mouthed Sam Jackson. The cast--including a lot of excellent secondary roles does more than enough heavy-lifting to keep the movie afloat even when it moves into head-scratching "What the heck am I watching??" space.

Its creators wanted to make an updated Bond movie in the way that Spielberg took the serial adventure stories of his youth and collapsed them into a single modern artifact: Raiders of the Lost Ark. In this, it's largely successful. The movie has a lot to say (well, kinda) about class distinctions--especially around dress--and the crew got some of the most famous designers to fashion the Kingsman clothing-line. They did a good job: those guys look awesome in their bespoke suits.

The rest of the movie looks good too with its parkour action-scenes and fast, brutal gun-play and fist fights that are well choreographed and exciting to watch. Like Mad Max, Kingsman keeps its action always in the middle of the screen to be easier to follow when things get fast and complicated. This works for it: the battles have a crispness that, for example, Batman and some Bourne movies totally ignore, leaving you sometimes wondering what exactly is going on.

Kingsman is a success as a film so long as you don't mind a ton of graphic violence, a story-line that sometimes seems off the rails (Did all those people just . . . actually die?) and periodically goes in for the 14-year-old humor.

Let's do the politics!

The Politics of: Kingsman

Kingsman gets credit for being specifically/explicitly conservative (The Guardian: Kingsman is the most conservative comedy this century). This is because (a) the villain is fighting Global Warming and (b) Barack Obama (unnamed--but it's clearly him) sides with the villain and then dies with an exploding head. does a surprisingly good job of working out why the politics of Kingsman, such as they are, are a mess.

Is it really conservative though? RedState doesn't quite think so:
More importantly, though, there’s been an almost complete absence of explicit praise from the movie on the right, which is because the movie isn’t conservative, at least in any meaningful sense. Kingsman is a delightfully and deliberately over-the-top romp that skewers everyone and everything in its path (including especially global warming alarmists) – a task that is somehow made all the more hilarious by the staid performance of Collin Firth as the film’s lead. However, the movie never questions the assumption that global warming is real or that it is caused by man, and it contains no conservative message, as such. It has, essentially, been mistakenly labeled as conservative by some for the same essential reason that South Park is often erroneously labeled as conservative – it depends for its success on a skillfully executed irreverence that catches in its scattershot both liberal and conservative sacred cows.
So, is RedState right? The Guardian? Vox?

The Truth About Kingsman: It's Conservative

The fact is that RedState is wrong about Kingsman not being conservative. Yes, true, it does not make concrete conservative points--and is somewhat 'even handed' in its targets (it brutally kills off the Westboro Baptist Church, for example). The place that RedState gets it wrong is that today conservatism is only part ideology. It's also a big part 'Tribal Identity.' Yes: to be a movie with substantial conservative thought it would need to take sides on whether global warming is real, caused by man, and so on--but that isn't what the movie is interested in.

No, it goes straight to the Tribal Identity part of the conservative complex. This is important: movies today either have stalwart black presidents, old-guy central-casting white presidents, or heroic stand-ins for Obama. To have the real Obama, having him turn evil, and kill him off is crossing all kinds of cinematic red lines in the clearest possible way.

Secondly, the film doesn't need to actually ask if global warming is real or whatever: it goes straight to the "Gaia Worshipers Want To Kill Us All" final solution. This is damning whatever the case is: Jackson is clearly evil. His plan is clearly deranged. It makes no difference what the truth behind it is--anything is better than what Jackson plans.

Jackson also implicates the Hollywood Elite. Yes, he's playing a tech-billionaire (also implicated. Silicon Valley is pretty liberal, generally speaking) but he is also Sam Jackson--an actor. He presents himself more or less in an iconic role here as the billionaire crusader from Los Angeles (who hobnobs with movie-stars and European royalty).  He uses a craven intellectual professor (also "the elite") as a foil. This is hitting all the markers.

What Kingsman lacks in ideology, it makes up for in identity politics. There's a reason it resonated well with conservative audiences--and enraged lefties. It's a textbook example of good conservative film-making. It also shows how the populist effect we're seeing driving, for example, Trump (and before then, Palin) plays out in entertainment.

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