Sunday, May 10, 2015

Kingsman, the Preposterawesome Scale, and The Welcome Return of Cufflink Lasers

I just watched Kingsman: The Secret Service, the film responsible for the surge in popularity of double-breasted suits in Korea (it was HUGE here).

I enjoyed it a lot. It's everything you want a silly escapist spy film to be (though with more F-words than the 007 franchise led us to expect). A movie like this will always have a chance of doing well, because as James Bond, and every major male film star of the last century except Bruce Willis shows us, people look awesome when they do awesome things in formal wear. (Clickbait list: the 30 best suits in film).

Kingsman is also a great demonstration of what I call the preposterawesome scale.

The principle of the preposterawesome scale is similar to How I Met Your Mother's "Hot/Crazy Scale," as explained by Barney Stinson in his send-up of an incorrigible ladies' man.

Basically, the positive quality of "hot" must outweigh the negative quality of "crazy" when Barney calculates if he wants to date someone. Disclaimer: Barney is a satire, and also a character in a sitcom, and I don't recommend actually thinking of dating prospects in such a dehumanizing, reductive way (sorry, THIS GUY, you're doing it wrong).

But in evaluating an action movie that is being consumed for entertainment, it's a little more OK to be reductive. And my own theory about silly and unbelievable things in movies is the preposterawesome line. Basically, the more preposterous a thing is, the more awesome it has to be, for viewers to forgive the silliness.

Star Wars's laser swords and the idea of monks with telekinetic powers defending the galaxy from villains who build moon-sized ships with planet destructo-beams is forgivable, because light sabers are awesome and so are Jedis and space ship dogfights.

We (or at least, enough of us) forgive the ridiculous idea of giant robots from space that transform into vehicles and then transform back into giant robots carrying huge laser cannons... but who still prefer to beat the hell out of each other with fists and blades and grappling holds, because because giant robots grappling and punching and swordfighting is awesome! 

And of course the best way to steal expensive goods is with a fleet of supercars going at high speed. We went to seven movies about that, and counting (I think the Fast Furious brand might be the next James Bond -- if they manage the brand right, the well might never run dry) because car chases are awesome! Lightsabers are awesome. Neo dodging bullets is awesome, and the Agents are awesome, too. Liam Neeson romping through Europe killing people is awesome. Everything is awesome!

James Bond spent four decades -- from the 60s to the 90s, above the preposterawesome threshold. There are simple reasons for that. Take 18-35 year old men, whose tastes marketers care about more than any other, for some reason, and ask them to brainstorm all the awesome stuff they want to see in a movie, and you'd come out with the elements of a James Bond film. "Uh... spy stuff. Yeah. Spy tech is cool." "Yeah. And like, sweet sweet cars with like, lasers and missiles in them" "Oh yeah. That's awesome. And exotic places." "Yeah. Exotic places FULL of hot women." "Easy hot women." "I thought that went without saying. Hurr durr." So... when Q introduced the newest Aston Martin that turned into a spy satellite and cooked omelettes and washed your cat in the back seat while jetting out oil slicks at baddie cars, and was invisible and also actually an airplane, we loved it, because that's just plain awesome.

The preposterawesome scale is also why Austin Powers almost killed the James Bond franchise -- by doing the loving satire they did, they also sharply underlined just how preposterous James Bond films were from Sean Connery to Pierce Brosnan, and at the same time digital effects sucked a lot of wonder out of special effects, because instead of going "Wow! An invisible car!" We went, "meh. It's all digital these days." The preposterous rating went up, the awesome rating went down, and suddenly Pearce Brosnan style 007 films were below the preposterawesome line. Jason Bourne showed them a way out of the woods: finding the awesome in believability and good writing and visceral action and good acting rather than cool cars and exploding pencaps, but without that, Austin Powers would have been the satire that killed the franchise.

And since Jason Bourne, the preposterous end of the preposterawesome scale was dominated by superhero films and the occasional Mission Impossible sequel. Which is great if you like tights.
and who doesn't?
But as MacGuffins in superhero movies (I'm looking at you, Marvel) keep getting loopier and loopier  (gems that make The One Ring look like a paper airplane have been the power items driving the plots of Thor 2, Avengers 1, and Guardians of the Galaxy. This is what they're building up to. This.

Expect the remaining Infinity Gems to appear in future Marvel universe films, before Thanos, who looks like this, tries to collect them all in future Avengers sequels and end-credit teasers. Credit to Marvel for pushing back the line of what is too ridiculous for live action films slowly enough that nobody noticed that suddenly power scepters and infinity gems were part of a superhero's day's work.

Whether or not superheroes are your taste though, it's fun to see Kingsman, where the evil megalomaniac is regular old human being, with a regular old doomsday device that isn't a jewel that comes from comic books, eventually to be wielded by a twelve foot tall alien with grey skin. It has been long enough since Austin Powers that we are allowed to make silly spy films again without people saying "Oh, come on!" and I'm glad about that, as much as I enjoyed Daniel Craig's 007.

Kingsman delivers, and that's the best thing I can say about it. It is highly preposterous, but also highly awesome, and I am glad to have double breasted suits and battle umbrellas and cufflink lasers and microchips and secret underground fortresses full of henchmen and recipes for martinis back on the preposterous end of the preposterawesome scale again, rather than just charismatic actors wearing silly hats. So... watch Kingsman. It's fun.

Side note: in keeping with the preposterawesome line, I suppose you could also create the funnyffensive line for jokes -- people are a lot more forgiving of offensive jokes if they're actually funny (and if the comedian shows they're not on the side of the assholes). You are welcome to leave a comment and suggest other areas where thresholds like the preposterawesome and the crazy/hot line exist.