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Review – Kingsman: The Secret Service (15) [2015]

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Star Rating: 3.5/5

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Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman make an awesome screen-writing couple. Together, they wrote the hilarious Kick-Ass and the first-rate reboot of the X-Men franchise. Now, they are back in comical fashion with the secret service spoof, Kingsman: The Secret Service.

harry (Colin Firth) showing Eggsy (Taron Egerton) the secret way of entering the world of a Kingsman.

harry (Colin Firth) showing Eggsy (Taron Egerton) the secret way of entering the world of a Kingsman.

Kingsman is based on the comic-book by Mark Millar. It is about a young man from South London called Eggsy (Taron Egerton), who is descending into a life of violence, drink, drugs and crime when secret agent Harry (Colin Firth) pays him an unexpected visit. Harry offers him the chance, which Eggsy accepts, to train and become a secret agent/Kingsman to stop Valentine (Samuel L Jackson) from making the world anew with his new invention.

Kingsman is a stylish and entertaining film. At its core, the movie is a satire on the spy thriller genre and James Bond in particular (which, itself, was a satire on the world of espionage until Daniel Craig’s Bond hijacked the franchise). Yet, Kingsman has a (charming) stick-two-fingers-up attitude that most spy thrillers and James Bond films would never dare employ. This attitude has a strangely endearing quality and hints at why Vaughn turned down directing X-Men: Days of Future Past in favour of making Kingsman. This attitude not only makes the film worthwhile-viewing, it reminds audiences of why they loved Kick-Ass so much back in 2010.

Roxy (Sophie Cookson), the obligatory babe, trying her luck to become a Kings(wo)man.

Roxy (Sophie Cookson), the obligatory babe, trying her luck to become a Kings(wo)man.

It also helps that Kingsman is ludicrously funny. Vaughn and Goldman have an impeccable understanding of the most essential ingredient for comedy: timing. As a result, the numerous jokes, touché lines, exaggerated action sequences, and amusing special effects all work throughout the film’s 129-minute running time. Indeed, one is likely to be so amused by the ridiculousness of the movie that one is unlikely to care that the plot is cliché and overblown, or that the actors take themselves as disingenuously as their counterparts did in Knight and Day, Mission: Impossible IV and This Means War.

Valentine (Samuel L Jackson) looking laughably ridiculous as the utterly camp villain, wanting to start the world anew.

Valentine (Samuel L Jackson) looking laughably ridiculous as the utterly camp villain, wanting to start the world anew.

No-one epitomises the preposterous nature of the storyline and the acting as much as Samuel L Jackson (SLJ), as the camp, 1980s-dressed, lisp-impaired villain of the film (named Valentine to cap it all). When one is used to watching SLJ as the stern and authoritative Coach Carter and Nick Fury, one has to blink repeatedly (and with disbelief) to remember that Valentine is the same man. But credit to SLJ: he performs insincerely admirably as Valentine without disgracing himself. The same can be said for Colin Firth, Michael Caine, Mark Strong, Taron Egerton and Sophie Cookson, even if their roles are far less humiliating than SLJ’s.

Over-all, Kingsman: The Secret Service is an enjoyable film, provided it is taken with a handful of salt. The movie is absurd and over-the-top in all departments. But it is a very funny and entertaining spoof on James Bond and the spy genre in general. Thus, like with Kick-Ass and X-Men: First Class before, Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman have scored again with Kingsman, and long may they keep scoring.

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Review – Captain America II: The Winter Soldier (12a) [2014]

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Star Rating: 3/5

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Titular characters are usually (and unsurprisingly) the main characters in their films. Bruce Wayne/Batman is the lead character in Batman Begins, Conan is the central performer in Conan the Barbarian, and Tony Stark/Iron Man is the dominant personality of the Iron Man franchise. Yet, in some movies the titular character is usurped by a member of the supporting cast. This is what happens in Captain America II: The Winter Soldier, and in this case it makes for a better spectacle.

Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) bent over a computer, uploading data as part of her mission.

The saucy Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) bent over a computer, uploading data as part of her mission.

Captain America II is the third instalment of Marvel’s ‘Phase II’ and takes place two years after the events of The Avengers Assemble I. With military and spy technology having evolved, Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) has become increasingly uncomfortable with how SHIELD is operating. Believing that there is something underhand at SHIELD, Captain America and his fellow Avenger, Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), go on the run to find out who or what might be behind SHIELD’s worrying change of direction. And that is when they come up against the powerful Winter Soldier…

Captain America II is a significant improvement on Captain America I. Its storyline is much more enjoyable and it justifies its 136 minute running time. Unlike the lacklustre and simplistic plots of Captain America I, Iron Man III and Thor II (the latter-two films being the previous two instalments of Marvel’s ‘Phase II’), Captain America II’s storyline tries to be complex and raises some thought-provoking moral dilemmas. Issues, such as the use of drones, and how far government agencies are permitted to use technology to gather intelligence about its citizens (and foreign ones) are matters that are greatly relevant to the present era, and the film should be commended for bringing them up.

However, Captain America II lacks the stamina to maintain these complicated themes as the film goes on. This is because the movie does not have the maturity of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, so it falls into laughable stereotypes and senselessness; all of which is a shame to a degree, yet do not affect the film’s entertainment value.

The part-masked and super-powerful Winter Soldier, whose identity and motives are unknown to SHIELD.

The part-masked and super-powerful Winter Soldier, whose identity and motives are unknown to SHIELD.

Chiefly, this is because of the role of Black Widow, played wonderfully by Scarlett Johansson. Black Widow has appeared in Iron Man II and The Avengers Assemble I; nevertheless, it is only in Captain America II that Black Widow is given proper screen time to express herself and she does not disappoint. In a similar vein to the Joker in The Dark Knight, Christian Bale’s Dicky in The Fighter, and Loki in Thor I & II, when Black Widow is not on screen viewers long for her return. It is not just due to her skin-tight costume, her excellent kick-ass skills, and Johansson’s tantalising good looks (although those are inordinately influential); it is Black Widow’s astuteness, savviness and (somewhat) enigmatic personality that makes audiences want to see more of her, since she keeps one guessing as to what her agenda is throughout the movie. (Indeed, it’s pity that there is not more of her.)

Black Widow undoubtedly overshadows the titular Captain America. This is not surprising since Captain America is the least talented and the least interesting of all the Marvel heroes. Captain America is merely the archetypal soldier without a bad bone in his body, which (as lovely as it sounds) makes for dull viewing (which was probably why Captain America I was so boring and why the directors included Black Widow this time around). This is not to say that Chris Evans does a bad job with the material he’s been given; it’s just that the material doesn’t have enough substance to it and wastefully does not develop Captain America’s character. The same is true for Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson), while the villains (none of whom I’ll name for fear of spoiling the film) are even less fleshed out and significantly more trite.

Trite is also how one can describe the dialogue in Captain America II. For the heroes, the dialogue is lazily written; for the villains, it is pitifully comical.

Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), in full garb, ready to take out his (and America's) enemies, alongside the Falcon (Anthony Mackie).

Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), in full garb, ready to take out his (and America’s) enemies, alongside the Falcon (Anthony Mackie).

But dialogue aside, the many (but thankfully not too many) stunts and action scenes are well choreographed. Those, in addition to the decent CGI and the uplifting music score, make Captain America II an enjoyable watch.

All-in-all, Captain America II: The Winter Soldier is an entertaining comic-book hero movie. Its attempts to be complicated, both on a plot and on a moral level, may become silly as the movie goes on. Yet, the film holds its audiences interest throughout its over two-hour running time. Unquestionably, this is because of Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow. In Captain America’s own movie, Black Widow steals his thunder (pardon the Thor pun), so much so that the film should not be called Captain America II: The Winter Soldier, but Black Widow: The Savvy Avenger.

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