British action-adventure Kingsman: The Secret Service features Colin Firth as a dapper, tailored super spy, Samuel L. Jackson as an evil billionaire with a Russell Simmons lisp, and slick shenanigans that’d make James Bond jealous. It also boasts a controversial moment that rivals the explosive, hacker-baiting money shot that earned Sony’s The Interview the ire of North Korea.
(Warning: Spoilers ahead.)
In a sequence that should get tongues wagging at distributor 20th Century Fox’s sister network Fox News (also owned by Rupert Murdoch), the cheeky comic book movie from Kick-Ass director Matthew Vaughn makes history—not for reinventing the spy genre, but for being the first major studio film to kill President Barack Obama.
Loosely adapted from Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons’ comic book, Kingsman follows a street-smart London lad (Taron Egerton) who joins a top secret spy agency housed in a Savile Row haberdashery and must save the world from a Google Glass-wearing supervillain named Valentine (Jackson).
Valentine, you see, is a disillusioned eco-philanthropist with a drastic plan to solve overpopulation: First, give free cellphones to the masses. Next, trigger a homicide-inducing subliminal frequency from the safety of a mountaintop bunker and sit back and watch as the population exterminates itself.
But before he gets to “V-Day,” Valentine and his Ginsu-legged henchwoman need help to set the plan in motion. They recruit celebrities, influencers, and politicians in their scheme to save the world’s elite class and imprison the honorable who refuse, like the Princess of Sweden, or, you know, Iggy Azalea. In one scene, Valentine makes his pitch to an enthusiastic candidate before the camera pulls back to reveal none other than President Obama.
In the film’s climax, the colluding one-percenters get theirs when the good guys activate brain implants that cause their noggins to burst in dazzling explosions. The over-the-top sequence conjures Kim Jong Un’s lyrical, Katy Perry-themed death in The Interview in more than a few ways. And yes, even Barack goes boom.
Vaughn and co-writer Jane Goldman soften the blow a bit by not identifying Obama by name and only showing him from behind, although the reference is clear.
“The White House and Obama-ish president—there's no other symbol about a global power than the White House. If I used 10 Downing Street, most people would go, ‘What's that little black door? Where is that? Who is that?’” Vaughn told IGN. “So I needed to show … when you hear Valentine saying, ‘Politicians are shit,’ you pull back and go, ‘Oh, fuck! He's in the White House! This guy's powerful.’”
Kingsman, which has no overt anti-Obama agenda, also takes aim at ultraconservative America by setting a brutal, madcap massacre scene within a church filled with hate-spewing fundamentalist Christians.
“Those in that church hate group … they're weird,” Vaughn told IGN. “The idea that there are people capable of picketing and screaming at funerals of people who have gone to Iraq—soldiers who died for their country—and these people have the audacity to say they're doing evil things... fucking awful.”
As rare as it is to see the death of a sitting President depicted onscreen, it’s almost as rare to see Obama fictionalized in film or TV at all, though the POTUS popped up briefly as a plot device in 2010’s Hindi drama My Name Is Khan, and in 2013’s Lee Daniels’ The Butler. Kingsman certainly doesn’t take aim as pointedly as 2006’s British fictional docudrama Death of a President, in which President George W. Bush is assassinated by a sniper’s bullet.
“I actually love America,” Vaughn said. “The only thing I was poking fun at is British people are always cast as the villains. So I thought, ‘I want to see an American villain for once.’”
A studio rep could not be reached for comment and it’s unknown if the White House has caught the flick, which opens stateside Friday. Either way, it’s probably best that Valentine didn’t invite Kim Jong Un to the end of the world.