Director Mathew Vaughn delivers a gloriously silly and old-school approach to spy filmmaking, while updating the action and violence to modern tastes.
The spy genre has become a rather dour affair over the past 10 or so years. Between the Bourne franchise and the deadly serious Daniel Craig era of Bond, that sense of goofy fun present in the films of yore has been mostly lost. That may very well have to do with changing audience sensibilities, especially in our post-9/11 world where the war on terrorism and the real intelligence communities who lead that charge have come to the forefront of social consciousness. In recent years, distrust of those very same organizations that are meant to protect us have also radicalized the way the movie industry creates spy films, catering to a growing sense of cynicism. How absolutely refreshing it is then to see a film as deliriously goofy and fun as Kingsman: The Secret Service, which giddily harkens back to a time where spies wore well-tailored suits, had great English manners, enjoyed a good drink before indulging in ultra-violence, and battled eccentric criminal mastermind adversaries who had inexplicably dumb schemes for world domination.
Kingsman’s plot (based on a comic series by Mark Miller and Dave Gibbons) revolves around a street wise troublemaker named Eggsy (relative newcomer Taron Egerton), who finds himself being recruited to try out for the world’s classiest and most prestigious spy agency. Eggsy’s father was himself a Kingsman, and died protecting fellow agent Harry Hart (Colin Firth), who now considers Eggsy’s future to be his responsibility. Then of course there is the genius super-villain Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson), who believes the only way to save the earth from climate change is to destroy all of humanity through their cell phones. No, it doesn’t make a lick of sense and it isn’t supposed to. Kingsman is at its best when it is gleefully calling back to a time of gadgets and gizmos, while subverting the genre through violent sequences built for a hip modern-day audience.
Director Mathew Vaughn (of Kick-Ass and X-Men: First Class fame) clearly relishes in the film’s throwback style, frequently offering a wink and a nudge towards the sillier original Bond films through dialogue (Vaughn shares screenwriting duties with Jane Goldman) and visual sight gags. Where Vaughn kicks it up a notch and truly excels is in the film’s action sequences, which are so violently over-the-top they make Tarantino look tame. The film’s tour-de-force comes during its midsection where Valentine tests his world domination plan in a bigoted evangelical church, turning Bible thumpers into rage filled homicidal maniacs (through cell phone signals, of course!). Firth gets to flex his ass-kicking muscle here as the sequence goes on and on in an exhilarating demonstration of breathtaking fight choreography and wildly inventive action staging. The camera glides through the massacre like it’s a hyper-violent ballet and every bullet wound, stabbing, and landed punch are presented in glorious close-up. Vaughn also plays with the Bond film’s blatant sexism and penchant for innuendo with an ending gag that will either leave you howling or shaking your head in shocked disapproval.
The casting is clever and sharp, with many fun supporting parts and extended cameos from the likes of Michael Caine, Mark Strong, Mark Hamill, and Jack Davenport to name just a few. The film isn’t afraid to kill off a famous face either, which makes the proceedings all the more fun. Taron Egerton does solid work as Eggsy and his boyish good looks certainly help in selling him as a modern-day secret agent. It is difficult for him to stand up next to vets like Caine and Strong who can do this kind of work in their sleep, but he has charm nonetheless. It’s not exactly a “star is born” performance, but it’s a role that certainly provides a good launching pad. Samuel L. Jackson is clearly having a blast as the egocentric billionaire eco-terrorist with a lisp and a disdain for violence. It’s a bit one-note, but it’s a note that manages to be pretty funny for the entirety of the film’s 2 hour-and-change running time. The real get here is Colin Firth, who just exudes class and refinement. Watching his work in the film is a sober reminder of just how good Firth is no matter the circumstance. Hell, he could have even made a great Bond with the right tone and filmmaker backing him. He instantly elevates this material whenever he is on screen and looks pretty damn amazing killing bad guys in a three-piece suit.
Kingsman: The Secret Service isn’t going to be to everyone’s taste, but for those who long for a more nostalgic and tongue-in-cheek take on the spy genre this is a film you simply cant miss . A glorious blood-soaked blast from beginning to end, Kingsman is exactly the kind of action film that we need right now. And considering the film has done remarkably well at the global box office (276 million to date on an 80 million dollar budget), a sequel is surely on the way. What a great alternative spy franchise this could turn out to be.