Review: Kingsman, the satirical comedian

I am quite convinced that Kingsman: The Secret Service isn’t one of those paltry, predictable, unoriginal, gaudy, gratuitously violent and hopelessly disastrous films that have pervaded and perverted the land of cinema.

To most there would seem no excuse for it not being all those harsh adjectives. Kingsman had after all, all the elements that comprise a film made for the sole sake of money and for the eyes of the ignorant, or in short, a genuine piece of cinema junk.

Kingsman is every part cliche – the protagonist came from the suburbs, is incredibly filial and loyal, has obviously many physical talents but refuses to acknowledge them, is made to compete against a gang of rich, lofty douchebags but beats them up and saves the day; the Kingsman is a espionage group that no one knows (yes, not even the CIA), they have an array of delightful gadgets at their disposal, their headquarters are hid deep underground, and they wear bullet-proof suits because fashion always matters; the villain has a devilishly sweet name, Valentine, speaks with a characteristic lisp, has a deadly henchman (woman), is clearly insane but thinks himself otherwise, and has devised a master plan to destroy the world; finally, the plot follows the same worn path that ends at happily-ever-after land.

Most of the time, a film full of cliches irks us because it tries to conceal them behind a couple of sloppy innovations, and pretends in its stained and tattered clothing to be some esteemed knight. Such films are like losers; for losers are not those whose characters are inherently flawed but those who are ashamed of their character and in trying to defy it, make so much greater a mock of themselves. Kingsman is different. It does not try to hide its cliched nature. In fact, it bares it all in the proudest, most conspicuous fashion, and even explains to the audience that it is doing so.

And you’ll know that Kingsman is a grand parody of those uninspiring copycat films when you see the most ludicrous and hilarious action sequences, with heads exploding in fireworks. Kingsman has deliberately flouted the rules of good film-making and in that freedom, squeezed in as much ‘cliche’ as they could, insofar as to turn themselves into the epitome of bad films. Kingsman is like the comedian that understands the sad state of cinema and its sad spiral into superficiality. And it is determined to see to what extremes this spiral can be brought before people begin realizing the junk they’ve been constantly coaxed into watching.

In spite of its excessive indulgence in cliches, Kingsman manages a perfect pace and entertains with such lightheartedness that its intentional obnoxious didn’t feel obnoxious at all. Not a moment throughout the entire film did I feel bored or overwhelmed by action, nor was I annoyed by the strings of cliches. Furthermore, the action sequences, though possibly for parody purposes, were some of the most memorable ones I’ve seen in a long while. I still can’t stop humming Free Bird and imagining Colin Firth flying all about the room and kicking ass.

It would thus be a most unfair disservice to view Kingsman as you would an ordinary action film. It is a film that is hardly serious about anything. It’s only intention is to entertain, and this it does spectacularly well (those blasphemers of cinema, like Dracula: Untold or Amazing Spider-man, had better learn a thing or two from this maestro of the clowny arts). Who would’ve ever guessed that some good would eventually come out of the carnival of paltry, predictable, unoriginal, gaudy, gratuitously violent and hopelessly disastrous films?

The existentialist in Birdman

I couldn’t help but to recall Sartre’s famous words, “existence precedes essence”, after digesting Iñárritu’s almost psychedelic Birdman.

The story follows one Riggan Thomson, a retired actor who used to play a popular superhero, Birdman. Riggan decides to reignite his fading career by directing and starring in a Broadway adaptation of Raymond Carver’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. However, he is constantly tormented by a coarse, commanding voice in his head that is Birdman; or rather, a parasitic vestige of him. Throughout the film, Birdman taunts and derides Riggan, incessantly telling him that he deserves better for the very fact that he once played that marvellous superhero.

It is this voice that drives Riggan to long for that lost stardom, for the illusory prestige birthed by a cult of celebrity. He wants to be heard, to be known, to be appreciated for the talents he believes himself to possess. Most of all, he wants to be remembered, and be through all generations, admired and revered. Slowly, we begin to see this obsession turn into a fear of being forgotten. Riggan becomes afraid of petering out into an indiscernible memory and of being divested of all that makes him him.

Riggan had developed a sense of awareness – that life eventually amounts to nothing, and that, at the end of it, our existence would have mattered as little as that of a speck of stardust. Riggan does not accept this and so, desperately, he tries to defy the inevitable. If immortality in being is unattainable then he shall have to settle for immortality in thought; that is, to be remembered for something extraordinary and find eminent residence in the universal tome of history.

As it was, Riggan appeared to have cared more about his existence than the things that comprised his life. He felt it more important to let his name survive him than to simply enjoy the production and live in however ephemeral a satisfaction. He knew that his essence, everything that comprises his being, would be extinguished completely by death, and that there would be no point in building it up or reveling in the culmination. Faced with such an inevitability, he then willingly allowed his existence to precede his essence.

This is but one of the many, many ideas that can be deciphered from the film. Speaking of which, another worth mentioning was its bold and blatant satirical assault on the state of cinema: “People, they love blood. They love action. Not this talky, depressing philosophical bullshit.”

For the love of cinema

It is disappointing that so few acquaint themselves with the true gems of cinema. Many often flock to what are aptly termed as ‘mainstream movies’ or, for the uninitiated, a tangle of incoherence and cliched phantasmagoria. The gems I am referring to are films that are masterfully crafted; that not only have brilliantly unusual plots but which are also adroitly directed, and which manages to linger, lost and lasting, in the minds of their patrons, inviting them to explore the fictional world in greater depth.

Nightcrawler is a film I recently watched, and one whose dazzle falls nothing short of the above consideration. It tells a story about a man named Louis Bloom, who one night stumbles upon the business of filming crime or accident scenes for the local TV news station. It is as he fumbles his way into the trade that his idiosyncrasies begin to show – for all his praise-worthy fastidiousness and diligence, he is shockingly indecorous and has a disparaging lack of morality. By the end of it all, I had come to absolutely abhor the character. This signified only one thing; that the film had so convincingly achieved what it had set out to do.

More than a exposition on character revolt, the film was a satire on the corporate world. Louis Bloom is a savage of the modern era; smart, hardworking, farsighted and brutally driven to achieve his goals. He is the man most fit for climbing the corporate ladder, for running a business that profits indifferently to those upon whom the expense is suffered or to those who simply fail to keep up. Most of all, he is a reflection of our disgust for some of the remorseless actions of the corporate world.

But less of that. What I am remarking on is the substantiveness of such films, and their ability to evoke emotions that would have otherwise remained cloistered and unfelt. Sometimes, they prompt us to rethink ourselves and other times, to question things to which we have never afforded much notice. Sadly, many are repelled by the very veneer of such films, thinking them boring or incomprehensible. I do not blame them for I too was once there and am able to empathize. But perhaps when they learn of the mistake in their belief and see the magic of such films, they shall come to appreciate and enjoy these most overlooked gems.

“Don’t let me go away like this, Murph..”

Listening to the recently released soundtrack of Nolan’s astronomically astounding Interstellar, I kept replaying in my mind the transition from Murph’s begging of Cooper to not leave to Cooper’s driving away and checking the passenger seat and finally to the count-down of the launch. I will admit that I did tear up during that scene and a few others which however did not impress as distinctly on me as this. I have watched a great number of other heartrending films and yet none have so managed to invoke the kind of vehemence in emotions as this had. And so I thought long about what it was in that scene or of that scene which had so warmly and adroitly strung the strings in my heart.

There were a few points of stark vividness throughout the entire sequence: Murph’s quivering pleads and Cooper’s “don’t let me go away like this”, Cooper’s driving away in his truck and checking under the blanket where once before he had found Murph hiding, and the count-down.

The first was an evocative exposition on unrequited love – Cooper had to leave in the wake of Murph’s bitterness towards him, and to have to leave without an acceptance or any form of regard from your most loved ones is truly an experience inexpressibly painful. The second, through a reminiscence, implied the primordial hope that we all possess – a hope that whatever dismal reality we are faced with is but a grand hoax, and that if we should peer under the familiar blanket, turn the familiar corner, open the familiar door, we shall find that nothing has changed and we can happily return to that blissful world. The last emphasized the fleetingness of time; how the present is always ephemeral and how everything so quickly becomes a fragment of our memory.

Coalesce all these vicarious emotions and there shall be formed a very complete and real episode of leaving a loved one (and of course, there can be no discounting of McConaughey’s and Foy’s superb, or should I say stellar, delivery). And perhaps, that was why I teared.