– Light Spoilers –
Kingsman: The Secret Service is the latest film from Matthew Vaughn, known most recently for directing X-Men: First Class and Kick-Ass and for producing classics like Lock, Stock, And Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, which if you’ve enjoyed any of the above then Kingsman is probably already on your must-see list. But whether it is or isn’t on your list, if you’re looking for a mostly mindless romp that enjoys being a fun and unpretentious (but brutal) action film, Kingsman is well worth your time.
Like most secretive organizations, the Kingsman operate with complete autonomy from the government with the sole purpose to saving the world from ultimate danger. After a Kingsman goes down in the field trying to solo rescue a Professor Arnold (Mark Hamill), the organization is forced to find a new candidate to fill his place. This is where Eggsy (Taron Egerton) comes in, a young lad with a once bright future who threw it all away because his mom, who had fallen off the deep-end after his father died in Kingsman training, breaks down in fear she’ll lose her son too. Harry Hart, a.k.a. Galahad (Colin Firth), who had trained Eggsy’s father, chooses Eggsy to be his candidate to take the spot of the fallen Lancelot. As Eggsy competes with and trains with other candidates, gaining a friend in Roxy (Sophie Cookson), the multi-billionaire Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson) hatches a plan involving SIM cards and a very nasty subsonic noise to fix the wrongs man has done to the planet Earth.
In the end, Kingsman’s story isn’t one you need to think too much about, simply because it’s striving for the more whimsical fare of the Roger Moore-era of Bond films mixed with today’s modern sensibilities. To emulate the lighter fare of the old era of spy films, there are the requisite over-the-top action scenes and gadgets, plus the sides of good and evil (for the most part) are easy to discern, add a little of today’s technology, and bring back an old-school styled megalomaniac. Kingsman stirs this mixture of old and new expertly, helped mainly by the tongue-in-cheek way characters literally call out and practically break the fourth wall with their intent to make a lighter tone for the film; No one is winking or nodding at the camera, but lines like “This isn’t that type of movie,” or flat-out references to the cheesy nature of the older Bond films are obvious enough without going overboard. However, it initially felt like the film’s violence was the only thing holding it back from achieving the tone it wanted to set.
The camera tricks employed during fight sequences had a three-fold purpose, one of which I wasn’t aware of until I thought more on the film afterwards. The obvious one was adding a visceral, up-close feel to all the violence, giving each punch/shot/stab weight and heft that even as a viewer you could feel (without having to give the film a 3D makeover). It also gives the impression each of the longer, sustained action sequences (like the one in the ‘hate church’) were all done in one single shot, never letting up on the go button until it’s all over (making for some impressive scenes). But with all the humor and levity in the film, the amount of violence on screen can sometimes come at odds with its tone, which leads me to the third and most important purpose of the camera tricks: giving the violence a cartoonish feel. This helps alleviate the differential between the tone and brutal nature of the violence, and while I still sometimes wondered if I should really be laughing or enjoying some of the action sequences (a double decker bus mowing down people in London got a lot of laughs), it was that cartoonish feeling which let me sit back and enjoy it all.
The relative newcomers playing Eggsy and Roxy worked rather well in their roles and I’d not be adverse to seeing them in more material in the future, both seeming to have fun in their roles. I just would’ve liked to spend a little more time with Roxy, who felt like she got pushed to the side for the final leg of the film. As for Colin Firth, he seems infinitely comfortable as the gentleman spy here, having fun as the dirty version of James Bond; his few scenes against Jackson’s Valentine are stand outs (especially their ‘happy meal’). The lisp Samuel L. Jackson has here as Valentine is just subtle enough to be really funny, giving him that classic Bond-villain appeal as a misunderstood genius, but he at least gets to do things most of them used to just talk endlessly about. His henchlady Gazelle (Sofia Boutella) is only deadlier than she is beautiful thanks to her blade legs, which cause quite the copious amount of violence and definitely outdoes classic henchmen like Oddjob and even Jaws (what, I said it). In supporting roles, both Michael Cane (as Arthur, the head of the Kingsman) and Mark Strong (as Merlin, the Q of the Kingsman) put in solid performances, making for a well rounded and easily likable cast.
Here are a few other things:
- Without giving anything away, the third act’s color-filled explosive montage is both one of the funniest and grossest things you’ll see. Also, there’s a nation who would probably be upset with a moment in that montage if said nation was North Korea, but they aren’t.
- I haven’t read the limited comic series The Secret Service, which this film is adapted from, but from Wikipedia it seems the opening of that had a Kingsman rescuing Mark Hamill. Funnily enough, Mark Hamill is in the film and being rescued, but instead of playing himself he plays a British professor (with an accent that comes off close to his memorable Joker voice).
- If you take a moment to think about it, it’s slightly weird Roxy, the actual Kingsman agent at the time, is the one tasked to blow up a satellite instead of the one getting to infiltrate Valentine’s mountain bunker and save the world.
- There’s a reason they train with dogs, not cats, people. It’d be a lot easier for the agents to pass the final test.
- While I never got into 24, it was still funny to see Eggsy named his dog after that particular J.B.
- If Princess Peach was more like the Princess from Scandinavia here, Mario would always be eager to rescue her from another castle.
- If you take a moment to think about it, who is always conveniently leaving their nearly finished pint of beer so close to that bar’s front door?
- The reason Valentine pukes at the end is priceless.
- There are some funny newspaper headlines in Harry Hart’s office that aren’t pointed out by the characters…if you can spot them.
- Come to think of it, if you spend a little too much time trying to think about it all, you might unravel some of the fun of the film. But the idea behind Valentine’s plan echoes the one in Dan Brown’s Inferno in the sense that such a concept, while appalling, might sound like a necessary evil in the short term.
When it comes down to it, it’s just nice to not always have to deal with a gritty reboot/adaptation of comic book material and Kingsman: The Secret Service is up for the job. With it’s humor, high-octane action, visceral combat, and love-letter feeling to spy movies of old, it would be hard for me not to recommend Kingsman, especially if you’re looking for more of a Kick-Ass time than for The Dark Knight in your next comic-book movie experience.
+ Cast seems to be having fun
+ Well-paced action romp
+ Visceral fight sequences
+ Colin Firth and Samuel L. Jackson are memorable
+ Over-the-top but believable
– Thinking too hard about it might unravel a few things
– Took a little long to get going
– Violence can come at odds with tone