How Kingsman Does Action Right
"Kingsman the Secret Service" as a film has a lot going for it, the dialogue is witty, the story is engaging, but above everything else Kingsman has some of the best action that modern movies have provided in a long time. Most people will see the action in Kingsman and know it's good without being able to quite work out why. The famous bar fight scene as well as being the first intense action set piece in the film, also contains all the details of Kingsman's action that allows us to see just how polished and refined it is.
If you're unfamiliar with the bar fight scene, or haven't seen the film in a while, check out the scene here:
There are four elements that make this fight scene, as well as the other fight scenes in the film, excellent action. These elements are: good buildup, character building, smooth editing and well choreographed fighting.
Satisfying action is like a good joke, both need a decent buildup in order for the payoff to have the best effect. In this scene the buildup is done excellently using characters that we as the audience already know as the antagonists and setting up a situation that we want to see the protagonist get out of, but know that they may not. The music escalating as Harry gives his "manners maketh man" talk helps build the tension of the scene until the payoff, the payoff being the glass throw that starts the fight.
This glass throw and what happens afterwards is a good example of how Kingsman uses action as a chance for character building / character defining. The fact that Harry used his umbrella to fling a glass at the leader of this group of rivals tells us far more about his character than simply throwing the glass or going straight into throwing punches. Firstly it tells us that Harry is a strategist, a lesser strategist would have targeted the larger, stronger foe in order to make the fight easier, however Harry went for the leader, clearly in an effort to win the fight early by intimidation, while it didn't work, it's still an insight into his character as someone who doesn't cause trouble unless he needs to, which is later reinforced when he waits until things at Eggy's house escalate to death threats before he intervenes.
Later in the battle, when Harry has a chance to kill the leader of these thugs, after the leader has made a serious attempt on his life, he instead decides to stun the leader, showing that he doesn't take fights personally and will only ever do as much damage as he needs to do in order to protect himself and the people he cares about. This very moment makes his reaction to the infamous church scene far more emotional.
The first punch to be thrown in this fight also tells us a great deal about the opponents. The first punch comes from a character who pushes aside his buddy to take the swing, this combined with the subtle camera movement there to emphasise the strength behind the punch, this tells us that these thugs fight with mindless brute force, they have no tact, no form, they just get around their target and hit them until they are done. Like many of the details in this fight this is very subtle and may not even be picked up on, but it's still a great deal of character detail in this fight which they are able to deliver mostly due to the smoothness of the editing.
Action scene editing is usually about cutting between shots as quickly as possible to keep up the pace, and while Kingsman does do it, it also prioritises something that some action films do not, and that is what is being communicated in each shot. As a result some shots are left lingering longer than other action movies would allow, a good example being one of the earlier shots where Harry keeps his opponents away using his umbrella as a weapon. This shot contains 6 individual hits, some action films would split it up so that each hit had it's own shot. However Kingsmen doesn't need to do this due to the fourth and final element of this action that makes it so good, the choreography.
The reason that many action films cut up the action into as little pieces as they can is because the action choreography would otherwise be quite dull if it was all done in one shot. For example take this moment from "Looper"
This 10 seconds has 13 different shots each to convey a single action to make it intense and epic. However later in the film we see this scene again done in one shot, and the scene is far less intense. To Loopers credit, this was intentional, and most action films never give us the comparison, however the same tactic is being used.
However Kingsman does not need to do this as often as other action films as it's fight choreography is already fast, creative and exciting without even needing to cut every fraction of a second. That is how, by using a good buildup, character building, smooth editing and well choreographed fighting, Kingsman The Secret Service is able to portray better action than many modern films. Hopefully this style of action will also be present in the new film "Kingsman: The Golden Circle", which is in cinemas today.
Kingsman The Secret Service (2014) - Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Looper (2012) - Endgame Entertainment
Kingsman: Bar Fight Scene - 20th Century Fox
Looper: Failing To Close the Loop - Movieclips Coming Soon
All images are screenshots from the videos that are linked above