Darke Reviews | Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015)

Every now and again you find a movie that surprises you. One where the trailers failed to grab you, but some early word of mouth got your attention. You weren’t expecting much of it and still were not quite sure of the tone as the film house lights came down and the movie logos began to roll. Suffice to say this year has been a weak year for film thus far, which isn’t terribly surprising when you look at releases through March with the stock of films that are shelved for long periods or the studios have no real faith in. If a Cloverfield comes along and destroys the box office so be it, but more often than not you get an Avatar or Frozen running until something new edges them out like a Lego Movie or ¬†Alice in Wonderland. Kingsman is in the litany of the delayed having originally been scheduled for an October 2014 release. Though the not yet reviewed Seventh Son has it beaten for shelf time by a full year.

Was the movie delayed for a good reason or did the studio make a mistake?

I can’t help but be reminded of another film of Samuel L Jackson’s from 2001 called Formula 51. It was not good, but I had the feeling this movie would remain the same in tone as Jackson was affecting an unusual lisp for…well reasons. It’s odd for me to start with the actors on a review, but Jackson is just so bloody odd in this and honestly a bit distracting from the rest of the film. There were times I wished to yell that he was the weakest link. I’d try to blame the director or the script, but nearly everyone else was spot on. Colin Firth as the elder tailor and mentor was rather engaging; which leaves me finding it funny he was in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy. While I am not familiar with his body of work, having seeing only one of his 75 credits (Shakespeare in Love if you must know), I can see why people gave him accolades for The Kings Speech. The man has a natural subdued charisma that he makes look effortless. Through the film his character talks about being a gentleman and he truly seems to embody that. Michael Caine is serviceable in his role, and Mark Strong (also in T,T,S,S) is magnetic as usual happily taking a back seat to others in the film and letting his natural screen presence be overshadowed when appropriate. The only oddity with him is what sounds to me like a touch of a Scottish accent that isn’t quite natural for him.

The two worth mentioning as standouts are Taron Egerton, our protagonist. For a new comer he shows a certain consistency that many other first time actors lack as he makes his way through the film. Dashing Rogue or Charming Gentleman he is successful in both. For a first time actor to have as much attention on him as he does, he doesn’t break and makes almost every line work and every bit of appropriate emotion. Sofia Boutella also stands out as Samuel L Jackson’s characters partner. There’s an eager gleefulness to her as she works her way through people and the movie, that makes her engaging to watch through and through.

From a story perspective, it is straight from a comic book – literally. The comic written by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons is familiar territory when you put names to works; such as Kick Ass and Wanted. The movie absolutely resonates with the irreverence of both the previous works. It functions both as an homage to the genre of the spy thriller and a near parody at the same time; just as Kick Ass does for the Superhero story. That is to say the movie is as witty as it is ridiculous, but too entertaining at the same time. The movie doesn’t try to be more than what it is and it actually knows it. Where some works try to be self referential and ironic in that they are doing that – they fail. This one does not as it keeps the tongue firmly planted in the cheek the entire time. I think the source material was good, but this tone I’ve been talking about comes from frequent writing partners Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman. The pair previously gave us Stardust, Kick Ass, and X-men First Class which all are very well done films that succeed on a lot of levels as does this one continuing a good trend.

This isn’t to say they are flawless, with Vaughn at the helm again. There’s just something he misses but I can’t quite put my finger on it. The pacing is off just enough and I can’t be certain but I think he uses a 4 act structure rather than 3 which sets the story and style off from the norm. There are some pacing issues that could have been avoided if there had been a touch more deftness at the helm. Some of the fights are a confused mess through sharp cuts and unusual camera positions. When you can tell what the fight is, you move from first person shooter to near comic book level action sequences to moderate success in the overall film. What does work with the technicals though is that the movie knows it is ridiculous and gives the audience something special for it.

TL;DR

Kingsman is a good movie. It is an acerbic tongue in cheek take on the spy movies without being an outright parody. It is a fun little actioner that has humor and a sense of the absurd that needs to be praised. It goes for over the top without reaching too far, putting it in the just right category. I can honestly say I want to see it again and hope to laugh just as hard. I want to see more films remember how to be fun but still tell a good story. I think we have had enough as a movie going audience of dour, dark, and broody. They have their place, but movies like Kingsman are looking good and leave you feeling good.

The movie is not for everyone as it hits a bit of the ultraviolence at times, so if you want bloodless action give it a pass. It’s not gory, just not bloodless either. Someone remembered what squibs are.

If you were the least bit curious about this movie, go see it. Nom your popcorn and drink your beverage and just enjoy the ride. I know I did.

 

Darke Reviews | X-Men Days of Future Past (2014)

I have to admit writing this I am a bit conflicted. I have not settled on an emotion right now as I start. I made it known at work today I was going in with fairly low expectations. I had a gut feeling from the way the marketing went. Too much product placement ads set my nerves on edge. It feels like the producers are trying too hard, especially when it’s something like Carls Jr. It creates a disconnect with me that I find unnerving and makes me doubt their faith in the movie on its own merits.

I think the other reason I am conflicted now is that I didn’t get the movie I thought I would. This is *not* a bad thing. It means I underestimated the film.

The movie returns original X-men and X-2 director Bryan Singer to the franchise. If you are not familiar with his best bodies of work, please look to the magnificent Usual Suspects and Apt Pupil. Despite it’s many sins he also gave us Superman Returns. What do all of these films have in common, along with the first two X movies? Characters. They focus on the characters, sometimes at the sacrifice of a logical story. He brings you into the characters and really makes you get people you shouldn’t and helps bring perspective to everyones world.

The story this time has a three writer issue and the rule applies. It shows. Jane Goldman (Stardust, First Glass, Kick-Ass) has her sensibilities in film clearly shown. Simon Kingberg (X3, Jumper, XXX State of the Union) shows his as well – which may explain the weakest aspects of the movie. Matthew Vaughn, director of First Class, also has a writing credit who also has credits on Stardust and Kick Ass. His appreciation for the characters and the ‘verse that he created. Respect is given to history and with a lot of little nods to both comic and animated history through out.

The story has issues though. It’s pacing is off as hell. It runs over two hours and sometimes feels it. It falls prey to too many locations and too many events it wants to include. It was a fear I had from seeing the trailers, so I will admit I may be judging harshly here. It tries to do too much and doesn’t quite nail it. It tries to tie up too many loose ends from *all* the other films and only gets half way to the finish line. It does a fantastic job where it can, but the places where story fails – wow. I give you this warning, it will also be in the bottom – DO NOT THINK TOO HARD! By all the powers that be do not think too hard on any aspect of the movie. It falls apart. I think I will lay that on Kinsberg as the weakest writer in the bunch and well if you think about the McGuffin at all or can do basic math..yeah. Ugh

So what does work? The actors. They own. They sell it with all they have and aren’t phoning it in at all. McAvoy and Stewart play Xavier at different stages of life and both sell the life they’ve lived. I thought I would be more annoyed with McAvoy’s Xavier, but I understood. I appreciated it and it helped. Fassbender and McKellen also play young and old fantastically well. You can see the man that was and the man that is. You can see the man that we saw in the other films and where he’d come from. Fassbender has more charisma than should be legal in a man when he’s on screen and we thank him for it.

Jackman returns to the role he was apparently born to play. I do hope this will be one of his last outings and let someone else take up screen time. I can’t say he does bad here, but its too easy for him and while he plays all he needs to and it works, its just there. Apparently for Jennifer Lawrence, two oscar nominations and one Oscar win get you more screen time and development. I see a transition from focus on Wolverine to Mystique and I have to admit it pleases me. She, of course is fantastic. While not someone I’d want my daughter looking up to, if I could ever have one, she’s got aspects worth looking up to. She’s a good actress with a good and complex character.

Peter Dinklage dominates every scene in which he has a speaking line. This is no surprise to Game of Thrones fans. Just like the other characters, while all of them are somewhat thin, the development they do get is enough to make him decently complex and relatable. He works and I believe it’s Dinklage as to why.

The future sequences give us a handful of our favourite mutants doing what they do and as per my rules no spoilers. I was stupidly ecstatic to see Blink though. Just a geek girl thing.

From a technical aspect, wow. Overall nice work. Some effects are rough. Rougher than they should be, but when they do work, WOW. I would point to raw entertainment whenever a speedster I didn’t expect to like was on screen. Also, they BUILT A SENTINEL. There was a real, physical sentinel that was built. Brilliant choice. Editing, well, again it runs longer than it shoud. I do not think 3D will add anything so no need for the extra ticket price.

Alright, TL;DR?

The movie still leaves me conflicted. I think its ok, a good character study. If I think too hard most of it falls apart. It had moments of entertainment, but not enough. The entire movie is heavy. Not dark, just heavy. There is no where near the fun or levity of some previous installments in the franchise. It does one thing I can’t say without spoilers, but it made me happy beyond words.

Overall, if you were going to see it nothing I say will stop you. Enjoy.

If you weren’t planning on it, you don’t need your mind changed. This certainly will only reinforce your decisions.

If you were on the fence, see it, but its absolute matinee.

I am seeing it tomorrow with another friend, hopefully I can have ANY emotion on this one after I am done, but I don’t think so. Stay for the end of the credits for your tease to the next movie.

Next week, I am watching the Mistress of all Evil. Maleficent.