Kingsman: The Secret Service is brilliant. It’s fun, fast, clever, and original within a genre that tends to fall on its laurels. The film is undeniably British, but I do hope it does well with an international audience, as I would love to see more films like this one on the silver screen.
Matthew Vaughn’s latest film has all the best elements of a Matthew Vaughn film – violence, humour, and roots in comic books. The film is loosely based on a Mark Millar comic (like Kick-Ass) called The Secret Service. While the film follows the overall story of the comic, it changes much of the core. For instance, the comic opens with actor Mark Hamill being kidnapped and rescued by a British secret service agent, while the film has the character Dr. Arnold, played by Mark Hamill, fill this role.
Kingsman had the potential to be another fairly vapid action spy thriller relying on the same old tried and tested tropes we have come to expect. However, the film continues to surprise throughout, even it’s structure is unusual. Vaughn sets up traditional spy tropes only to tear them down – setting up the audience’s expectations before turning things upside down. Comedy and stylized ultra-violence (something he completely nailed in Kick-Ass and works wonders with yet again) colours the world of Kingsman with a tongue-in-cheek optimism and over the top villainy that we’ve not seen since the old Bond movies. The film relishes in its genre history, having fun while it delivers something intelligent and original.
When one of their agents dies, each of the remaining Kingsman agents nominates a candidate to take on the vacant position. Harry Hart (Colin Firth), codename Galahad, nominates Eggsy (Taron Egerton). Eggsy’s father had been Harry’s nomination when Eggsy was a small boy and was killed while still being tested. Since then, Harry owed his life to Eggsy’s father and hopes to make it up to him.
Under the militant regime of Merlin (Mark Strong), Eggsy and the other Kingsman hopefuls have to fulfill a series of increasingly dangerous trials to prove themselves worthy. Meanwhile, technology genius and billionaire Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson) is plotting to cull the world’s population, while protecting those he deems ‘worthy’ (generally the rich and famous).
As Eggsy fights to stay in the running for a place within the Kingsman, Harry must get to the bottom of Valentine’s plot and save the world.
You are about to embark on the most dangerous job interview in the world.
The film, while ostensibly a comedic spy thriller, is also a military training camp film (similar to Stripes or the first part of Full Metal Jacket). This merging of the two distinct genres allows the film to keep the tension dialed up to full at all times. There’s tension for Eggsy making his way through the intense training program while Harry must foil an evil plot in the veteran spy world. It keeps two main plot threads running in tandem throughout the film, creating more of a five act structure than the traditional three – a beginning and middle for both plot threads, with one final conclusion bringing them both together.
The cast reflects this two-fold story perfectly. Eggsy, played by relative newcomer Taron Egerton, holds his own well. He manages to pull off the rough-around-the-edges ingénue role with charisma and authenticity. Meanwhile, seeing Colin Firth in an action role while still clinging to his gentleman persona was fantastic to see. Who knew Mr. Darcy could kick so much ass?!
Other veteran members of the Kingsman along with the supporting actors for that half of the plot are absolute powerhouses. From the opening scene we have Mark Hamill (and it really is lovely to see him on the big screen, I love that man so much) and Jack Davenport – who is unbelievably brilliant as the posh gentleman spy. Mark Strong, a regular feature in Matthew Vaughn films is wonderful as always, though it took me a little while to get used to the accent. Michael Caine and Samuel L. Jackson also lend their heavyweight acting chops to round out a rather fantastic cast.
Mankind is the virus, and I’m the cure.
At one point in the film, Valentine and Harry are discussing what they loved about the old spy movies, before they became too serious. Valentine notes that they were only really as good as the villain (think back to all those crazy Bond villains in the early years). He makes a very good point. Sure, they were often comically clichéd but they had such grand plans full of imagination and personality. Villains these days are rather prosaic.
Thankfully, the villain of Kingsman could be lifted straight out of a Sean Connery Bond film – complete with personal underground cave/prison, powerful and devoted henchman, as well as an overcomplicated scheme in which to bring down the world. Not only that, but his ‘villainous’ desires are actually entrenched in rather noble goals, blurring the lines between good and evil and making for a far more interesting, and motivated antagonist.
Valentine has supposedly spent years, along with billions of dollars, trying to solve the world’s climate change problem. Unfortunately, he has seen that time and time again politicians are too concerned with re-election to really do anything about the global problem. So, instead, he decides that the only thing for him to do is to take matters into his own hands. While his methods are extreme and a tad unethical, his intentions were originally noble.
Valentine’s left-hand man is Gazelle (Sofia Boutella), an extremely skilled fighter with metal prosthetic legs. Boutella’s skills as a dancer were exactly what the doctor ordered for her elegant, precise, and visually dynamic fight scenes. The element of her prosthetic legs I found to be extremely positive – she is a total badass throughout the film, showing what amputees are capable of. While watching, it brought to mind Viktoria Modesta’s brilliant music video where she more than embraces her disability to show the world what she could do.
Verdict: Kingsman: The Secret Service is a smart, fun, and fast-paced take on English spy stories. The action scenes are expertly directed, the visuals sumptuous and surprising, the acting is superb, and he comedy is both brutal and irreverent. Be sure to see this film.
Kingsman is in wide-release in the UK on January 29th, Australia on February 5th, and the US on February 13th.