After succeeding with Kick-Ass, and the excellent X-Men: First Class, the duo of Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman have done it again, and delivered a fun, clever, destined to become a cult classic, film with Kingsman: The Secret Service; the brand new action/comedy headlined by Colin Firth (Before I Go To Sleep).
A film which, by all rights should be awful; a comedy spy rip-off/spoof, with apparently child-friendly tendencies, and the clash of council estate meets wealthy toff; Kingsman is surprisingly enjoyable from the outset, and not only because it contains better action than the entirety of Taken 3 within the first few minutes.
Built around the tale of a yob-ish council estate lad who happens to land himself a tryout with a private spy firm run by proper English gentlemen (the Kingsmen), Kingsman sees a chavvy young teen known as Eggsy battling against his higher-class counterparts (Oxford-educated, gentry offspring, who’ve also earned a tryout) for the one open position on the illustrious team, and entering a world filled with guns, girls, gadgets, gentlemen, espionage, fancy suits and all the pomp and caricature of a classic James Bond movie (complete with caricature villain, and matching henchmen) as the team simultaneously work to thwart the plans of billionaire super-villain Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson, Django Unchained).
It’s a film which shouldn’t work, because it’s not only a ludicrous concept but something which we’ve basically seen before (albeit in more child-friendly movies; i.e. Agent Cody Banks), and a riff on films which are growing increasingly dated. Yet Kingsman straddles the line of comedy/satire and brilliantly original material with perfect ease; it’s never too serious, often poking fun at itself (with its numerous, unsubtle, references to classic spy movies and their far-fetched plots), though also never falls too far down the spoof-hole; laying the grounds for its success with more straight-laced humour, likeable characters, and shockingly good action.
In fact the action is so good, it’ll take you completely off-guard time and again; from the way in which an entire cabin of people get slaughtered by the prim and proper Lancelot (Jack Davenport, This Life/Pirates of the Caribbean) in the opening minutes, to seeing Valentine’s henchlady Gazelle (Sofia Boutella, Monstetrs: Dark Continent) slice people in half with her bladed prosthetic legs, or Colin Firth (The King’s Speech) not only take on a pub full of London yobbos armed with only an umbrella, but go ape-shit on a church full of enraged christians in what is not only going to remain one of the year’s best action sequences, but become this year’s Quicksilver scene.
What’s even more striking about the action, is not the amount of action on show (and the fantastically stunning way in which Matthew Vaughn can shoot a lengthy elaborate action sequence, maintain momentum, up the level of gore constantly, and also give you just long enough to take in each and every special takedown/kill) but the sheer level of violence. Kingsman is only a 15 certificate in the UK, but with the Kick-Ass level of violence and swearing you’d be forgiven for thinking it was rated 18; something it gets away with by being clearly over-the-top, featuring cartoon-levels of violence which are utterly unrealistic at times, but make the film exactly what it’s supposed to be, fun.
And that’s one thing you have to give Kingsman: The Secret Service; it’s nothing if not fun, and made so in large part thanks not only to the impressive writing, direction, and hugely violent setpieces, but the energy of the talent involved with the project, and the big names which flocked towards it. The oft irksome and generally dull Firth turns in a surprisingly watchable performance as Eggsy’s mentor Harry (actually appearing believable as the suave toff, who’s the James Bond equivalent of the Kingsman’s world), the always watchable Mark Strong (Sherlock Holmes) appears to have more fun than ever as the gadget-man of the film, and while Samuel L. Jackson can’t quite pull of the socially inept billionaire computer genius that is Valentine (and sometimes looks as if he’s phoning in his performance) it’s still his best role since Django.
Further supporting credits also rest with the likes of Michael Caine (The Dark Knight Rises), Mark Hamill (Star Wars’ Luke Skywalker), and Sophie Cookson, but the true star of the Kingsman is Taron Egerton; a young newcomer from Aberystwyth who’s playing a character that could easily become loathsome (a cocky chav who decides to become a gentleman spy and uses his ‘street-savvy’ ways to try and compete in their world), but remains remarkably likeable throughout, is undeniably capable in his action sequences, and even manages to deliver on an emotional front (definitely making him one to watch in the future).
A ridiculous plot, overly lengthy training segments, and a lack of clear identity (is it a comic book movie? and outright spy-spoof? kids spy movie? or throwaway action flick?) do mean it’s less than a perfect film, but in a season of awards baiters, minor horror movies, and little else, you’d be hard pressed to find a film as fun, original, and downright enjoyable as Kingsman: The Secret Service.
With glorious levels of violence, spectacular set pieces, fantastic action, a cast to die for, and a script by the people who gave you X-Men: First Class, Kingsman: The Secret Service is among the few mainstream movies to broach an adult-orientated look at a comic-book, and deserves praise for doing so. It’s not a serious movie, it’s not realistic, and it’s not likely to win any Oscars, but then it never intended to; it intended to be fun, to poke fun at classic spy movies, and deliver a dose of escapism which’ll make you go “wow”, and it succeeded at every turn. Pure popcorn, better than expected, and enjoyable escapism at it’s best. If you liked Kick-Ass, you’ll love Kingsman: The Secret Service.