Friday, January 30, 2015

Abdicate!

KINGSMAN,  a new ultra-violent Bond pastiche for attention-deficient 4Chan users, out today, is an almost breathtaking example of moral double standards. Matthew Vaughn, who oversaw the train wreck in question, not only has his racist, classist, homophobic, sexist, violent cake, but he eats it. Oh, how he eats it.

The film tells a basic story (we intend 'basic' here in its Web 2.0 usage, meaning 'obvious' or 'unsophisticated') of a young man being groomed by an old secret service of spies to become one of them in order to save the world over and over. The protagonist, known as 'Eggsy' in order to signpost his working class origins, is recruited by dashing posho action man Colin Firth to join the Kingsmen, an old bunch of secret agents who use umbrellas to fight, and all wear suits and glasses and have side-partings to denote their upper-classness. Having made it through an arduous training process during which 'Eggsy' defeats a selection of absurdly toffish rivals to be anointed the new 'Kingsman', he must defeat Valentine (played by Samuel L. Jackson with a check-this-out-yo lisp), a dastardly tech mogul who has invented a chip in your phone or something that makes people kill each other for no reason.

So far so OK-yeah-we've-seen-this-in-James-Bond-films. But where KINGSMAN differs from all that hokum is that it brings a new, schizoid, i-Pod generation -style ultraviolence to the mix, along with cheap visuals and tacky politics. The result is a film that aims to be bracingly tasteless, enjoyably daft, excitingly politically incorrect. The film's grossness, its intellectual barrenness and moral vacuum, are so completely inbuilt and assumed as positive points by its makers, that detractors will be wary of appearing prim for finding it vulgar and disgusting. But it is, and here's why.

KINGSMAN's director wants to return to an era before James Bond films got so dreary and politically correct. And he's right, it's so tiresome that people expect Bond's fuck-interests to have lines of dialogue these days. Why can't you just objectify women like you used to? Taking this Inbetweeners-level credo as its M.O., the film features three women - one a murderer who kills men with the blades she has instead of legs (zomg), the other a fellow recruit to the Kingsman service called Roxy who is given next to nothing to do and is handily ignored for vast chunks of the film, and the third a sexy Swedish princess, who is captured by Samuel L. Jackson and promises 'Eggsy' anal sex in return for her liberation. Stay classy, Matthew. The makers of the film clearly think that having a token female character recruited to the service is a pioneering act of feminism that gives them licence to sexually demean a paper-thin character who serves no purpose other than to be objectified. It's a double standard that is reflected everywhere in the film.

Early on, Colin Firth brutally beats up five men who have made the huge mistake of implying that he's gay. I know how he feels, I get ever so upset when that actually happens to me for real in the street. Later on, as if to serve penance for this act of grotesque prejudice, Firth murders a congregation of homophobic southern baptists in one long and disgustingly violent sequence. It's OK, two wrongs make a gay rights.

The film has a black villain, played by Samuel L. Jackson. Hooray for the inclusiveneness! Shame they had to ghetto him up to all hell and have Colin Firth smirkingly remark on his 'colourful' nature. 

Classism? Roll up, roll up. The film makes a huge deal of sticking up for the little guy, urging us to support 'Eggsy' in his defeat of the posh toffs who are his rivals for a job in the Kingsman service. The filmmakers apparently deem this stance to be sufficiently right-on for them to paint the upper-class kids as sneering poseurs, while 'Eggsy''s family and friends are depicted as ugly, feckless layabouts straight from Eastenders in the 90s. The film's one act of class consciousness in no way validates the stale and condescending depiction of class in the film. Meanwhile, although the film pokes fun at the upper-class yahoos it presents as straw-men for 'Eggsy' to defeat, it is in laughable thrall to flash cars, top hats, the races, 'Britain' and fine tailoring. Here we have, thrillingly, what seems to be a triple-standard. Exciting.

On, then, to supra-violence, and the orgy of cake-eating that this occasions in the film. Vaughn and co clearly believe they are permitted to display as much violence as they like, with the defence that the murders and attacks they depict are droll or fantastical. It's like a comic! Why, then, do they cynically make a big deal of the murder in the church and, later, of a moment when 'Eggsy''s mother is on the brink of murdering her baby daughter because of Samuel L. Jackson's stupid murder-chip making her do it? You can't extract sentiment, pathos or suspense out of individual killings of proper characters while brutally offing legions of cartoonish other ones in the name of 'a bit of fun'. It's not just distasteful, it's nonsensical, two-faced, cowardly, boorish and stupid. 

But then that's Kingsman all over - just a bit of fun, but one that hasn't bothered to consider why political correctness exists. It's politeness, that's all; it's manners, quite unlike the sort of parody of manners that Colin Firth's character exhibits and mansplains at tiresome length. And it isn't there to ruin everyone's fun, just the fun of little unreconstructed white boys who want to play with guns and women. Bad luck, 'Eggsy'. 

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