Kingsman: The Secret Service is a spy movie that knows its spy movies. It also knows it's a movie. It even knows it's ridiculous. But what it doesn't know all but sinks it.

Eggsy (newcomer Taron Egerton), a tough kid from a council estate, is recruited by spy Harry Hart (Colin Firth) to join the training program of Kingsman, an ultra-secret organization -- run by Michael Caine -- where all the operatives take names of knights in King Arthur's court. Headquartered in an old-fashioned, handsomely detailed, Savile Row tailor shop, Kingsman's secret facilities (a private, high-speed, subway ride away) are state of the art, and the rigorous training program, full of tricks and surprises, brings to mind Willy Wonka's factory, with more deadly stakes. Eggsy proves himself adept at handling the challenges and soon finds himself part of the organization.

Meanwhile, tech billionaire Valentine (Samuel Jackson, working Russell Simmons to death) is very concerned about the environment and knows that pesky humans are the biggest obstacle to progress on this issue. His "final solution," one involving a violent Purge-like event, triggers Kingsman into action.

Based on a comic book by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons, Kingsman takes a lot of pleasure in wild violence. Its message, if there is one, would be something along the lines of "kill everyone now." And that's a fine message on its face. It's what makes movies like The Raid so exciting.

But maybe because of its comic book origins, Kingsman's murder-aesthetic owes more to digital cartooning, spinning camerawork and a jokey, tongue-in-cheek approach to death, than it does to the acrobatic physicality of The Raid. Impact is stylized, blunted, and then all but forgotten as the mass death grows repetitive and dull.

Kingsman's winking doesn't end there. Its insistence on going meta, on commenting on its spy-movie-ness, specifically referencing Bond films, only serves to heighten the unpleasant contrast between Bond's actual vintage coolness and Kingsman's contemporary, disconnected dreams of vintage coolness.

But worst of all, when it comes to its female characters, Kingsman doesn't know which old-timey stuff to save and which to discard. There are women on screen who fight to the death and women who are held hostage, and almost all of them are subject to men, both the villains and the heroes, groping (or doing much more to) their asses. Why? Why not, director Matthew Vaughan (who thanks the guiding hand of his mother in the closing credits) seems to be saying, clearly enamored of the old-school Bond approach to the opposite sex. "Boys will be boys and 'chicks' will be their toys," taken in the context of a less enlightened moment, is a forgivable attitude for a film shot in 1965. In 2015 it's uninspired and dull, and more than a little creepy.


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