Somehow, Kingsman: The Secret Service was still in theaters here this week. To put this in perspective, we’re in a seven-screen town, and this would be the seventh week that it’s been in theaters. And it’s rated R.
That’s impressive. Not going to lie. I had read the comic, in preparation for this LitFlix, but had really just thought I wasn’t going to get a chance to see the movie in theaters. Which was a shame, because I hadn’t really wanted to read the comic…
But it was still out, and I saw it, and as expected it was much more entertaining than the comic. I will try to keep my ranting about the comic to a minimum, and talk a bit about the main theme of the film, and about the main change in the film. Spoilers ahead for the film and comic, but let’s face it – it’s not long for theaters now!
The Basics of Kingsman, or The Secret Service
I am amused by the title change on this one, since it is a switch of which title comes before and which after the colon. Anyway. Kingsman is a spy movie. But it’s also about spy movies. It’s a meta sort of film, much like Kick-Ass was for superhero movies. This makes sense, as you have the same creative folks – like Mark Millar’s comics and Matthew Vaughn directing – at the helm.
I read a great article recently on We Minored In Film about how Matthew Vaughn decided to make this movie instead of Days of Future Past (as he had done X-Men: First Class). It seems he sees a resurgence of spy movies coming – and wanted to be at the front of that, rather than lost in the middle. Anyway, read the article.
With Kingsman, I would say he has achieved this.
Kingsman is about an extra-secret spy agency, and we watch a group of young potentials training to fill the one vacant space. Our hero, Eggsy, has a benefactor (played by Colin Firth) who is a badass. Eggsy himself comes from a rough background, but shows those well-bred, well-educated folk that there’s more to life than being pretentious.
Meanwhile, there is a villain with a doomsday plan. He decides that the planet is trying to kill us (climate change) and decides we need to reduce the world’s population to equalize. He starts deciding who’s going to live, secreting them away to survive the coming doomsday. The doomsday itself triggers violence and shuts off inhibitions, so it makes people go crazy and kill each other. So he isn’t technically killing anyone – they are killing each other, for him.
The meta commentary comes in because we’re in a day and age where these characters grew up on stories like James Bond and know tropes like the evil villain and the dashing gentleman spy. Indeed, the villain loves the fact that there are spies facing off against him – though as Samuel L. Jackson’s villain likes to point out to us, it’s not that kind of spy movie.
To prove it, we have character death! Shock! Amazement! Trailer:
The Mark Millar Rant
I’ve ranted about Mark Millar, author of Kick-Ass, Hit-Girl, and The Secret Service: Kingsman (as well as Marvel’s Civil War) before. I almost didn’t read this one because of it, but I decided to stick with the LitFlix project and read it.
In short, I feel like Millar writes kind of like the folks I talked about in this post: he writes as a form of wish fulfillment, of giving his fans “what they want.” So like, Kick-Ass is the character who wants to be a superhero, and actually becomes a superhero. And Eggsy, in Kingsman, becomes the spy-movie spy.
Then Millar follows this up with a couple of different thoughts. One is, “would you really want this?” He shows this generally with a lot of violence, things like the death of Big Daddy or of Colin Firth’s character. The other thought is, “you couldn’t be this person anyway,” which I think is best personified by Hit Girl. Yes, Hit Girl is awesome. But she was raised to be a superhero, from a young age. We can’t get those years of our own life back to be a superhero ourselves.
So, this is all pretty critical and rude to the audience, in my opinion, and it seems that the movie crew agrees, because they make a lot of Mark Millar’s plot points both less harsh and more entertaining in the movies. Let me give an example from Kingsman.
I mentioned the rage-inducing doomsday device. Well, they tested it first. In the comic, they tested it during a mass weddings ceremony in Hawaii, and all the wedding parties killed each other. Just a little bit of the ol’ Ultraviolence. Well, in the movie, the test is instead in a stand-in for your favorite hate-church to hate. The scene begins on a hate-sermon from the hate-preacher, and we find Colin Firth in the audience. Then, instead of watching bride and groom kill each other, we watch Colin Firth being a badass and surviving the whole mess.
In one, it’s a scene no one really wants to see or imagine. Like it’s some way of trying to show “the true face of evil.” In the other, it’s still a despicable act, but it’s more logically targeted (taking out some awful people) and it’s much harder for the audience to react negatively to it. It’s like beating on Nazis, nobody minds.
The Main Change from the Comics
So, like the example above, the movie is full of changes from the comics, things to make a more interesting and entertaining story, while still keeping the basic elements. Sure, there are some changes like making the villain Samuel L. Jackson instead of a Bill-Gates wannabe. And making the villain’s crazy sword-legs right-hand-man a woman.
But no, changes like that aren’t the big change. Those were all the sorts of changes I expected, and they pretty well all worked. Okay, there was the weird addition of the whole ending thing, but that was also part of the James-Bond-movie meta commentary: Bond always ends up with the girl in the end, right? Because that’s totally what would happen when you save the world.
Anyway, no, the substantial change to the story is who Colin Firth’s character is.
In the comic, the man who brings in Eggsy for training, to become a Kingsman, is his uncle. So when Eggsy has been getting in trouble in his life, his uncle has bailed him out, with his secret ways. They just thought he had some influence. In the movie, Eggsy’s dad died saving Colin Firth’s character – and was himself Kingsman (in training).
While this seems small, one of the main points about Eggsy is that he’s the one from the poor background, without the posh upbringing (they’re British, “posh” is absolutely the right word). In the comic, his uncle believes in him and knows he can do it because he himself did it – became a gentleman spy from a humble background, defying all their expectations. In the movie, Colin Firth picked Eggsy’s dad as well – so he just strongly believes in him.
And both Eggsy and his dad share tendencies towards trying to protect and save people, rather than having an every-man-(or woman)-for-himself attitude like the posh kids. So it’s kind of like bringing in the sacrificial pawn, or recruiting the Tank for your MMO party. You just know you need to have him.
In the comic, it was much more about the uncle and the only way he knew how to get Eggsy out of his prior situation, and make his life better. Because in both, he lacks a father figure, and fights with the step-father-figure.
I felt like this was a fairly big change that did not need to be changed. It’s interesting. I’m not sure which I think is better – which might actually mean I think the comic version of this relationship was better and I just don’t want to say that.
Final THoughts – Mark Hamill?
So the comic opens with Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker) being kidnapped, because the villain wants him to survive the doomsday. Because the villain is a big nerd, so of course, save the Star Wars folks. Haha, we see what you did there, Mark Millar.
In the movie, they went more of a world-leaders and people of influence direction with that, including a scene in the White House with an Obama look-alike from behind. Haha, we see what you did there, Matthew Vaughn.
However, when I watched the credits roll, I was stopped in my tracks. Mark Hamill???
Yep, he was in the movie, as the guy who got kidnapped at the beginning. Just not playing himself.
Meta, I tell you, meta!