Smart genre riffs and hyper-stylized action, Kingsman: The Secret Service manages to provide a clever twist on the spy movie format.
After losing his father at a young age, Gary “Eggsy” Unwin (Taron Egerton) grows into a troublesome (albeit highly intelligent) South London twenty year-old – with a strong desire to protect the people he loves but no clear direction in his own life. Eggsy spends the majority of his days with a chip on his shoulder, defying authority figures, and blaming stuffy aristocrats for the death of his dad, believing that silver spoon politicians callously sent Lee Unwin into military combat with no concern for his safety (or the potential ramifications).
However, unbeknownst to Eggsy, his father was actually a member of the Kingsman – a privately funded spy agency that operates outside of bureaucratic motivations, investigating and disarming global threats. Lee was killed in the line of duty, saving the lives of his fellow Kingsman – including Harry Hart (Colin Firth), the organization’s top agent. In appreciation for Lee’s sacrifice, the Kingsman have kept a close eye on Eggsy over the years and, when the boy finally lands himself in significant trouble with the law, Hart bails him out and presents him with the opportunity for a better (though admittedly more dangerous) life – as a Kingsman.
Kingsman: The Secret Service re-teams Kick-Ass and X-Men: First Class collaborators Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman for an adaptation of another Mark Millar comic book, The Secret Service (published in 2012). While the Kingsman film takes a few liberties with the original Secret Service story, the movie ultimately delivers an outrageously fun take on the spy movie genre – one that should appeal to fans of the series as well as moviegoers who are in the mood for cartoonish violence and action (in the same vein as Kill Bill and the original Kick-Ass). Certain elements might be a little too crude for sensitive viewers but Vaughn’s film includes enough crowd pleasing laughs, stylized fight choreography, and slick spy gadgets to make it an easy recommendation for casual moviegoers in search of popcorn entertainment.
Like many Millar stories, Kingsman relies heavily on toying with genre expectations. Where Kick-Ass dealt with the ugly reality of superhero vigilantism, presented with colorful flair, Kingsman retrofits spy movie tropes (gentlemanly super spies, twisted villains, and zany henchmen) with modern filmmaking aesthetics. The core storyline and character outright acknowledge these parallels to humorous affect; though, the film itself is still locked in a relatively stock spy outline (a game of cat and mouse between heroes and villains) paired with the familiar tale of a scrappy young person given the chance to do something extraordinary with their life – assuming they are bold enough to take it. For that reason, discerning viewers may find facets of Kingsman predictable or underwhelming, with a few plot holes that are also hard to miss; yet, even when the movie falters (or takes its jokes a bit too far), Vaughn’s moment to moment execution supplies a constant stream of sharp action, enjoyable characters, and clever pop culture nods.
In fact, while recent James Bond films continue to retrace 007’s signature style, Kingsman presents a hyper-stylized variation that, without question, offers some of the best fight choreography that moviegoers will have seen in the spy genre as of late. The tone can be tongue-in-cheek, and gags are lewd, but Kingsman isn’t just a silly spy romp either – there’s a heart to the story that, in between all of the blood, explosions, and sexual innuendo, imparts thoughtful commentary on the men behind the suits. Whereas Bond is often depicted as an unremitting weapon of MI6, Vaughn presents his Kingsman as thankless heroes that aren’t just well-dressed to blend in at parties, they live (and die) by the philosophy that “manners maketh man.”
For that reason, Firth (whose name had been thrown around years back as a possible candidate for Bond) furnishes one of his most likable and entertaining performances, in an already illustrious thirty-year career, as Harry Hart. Performing much of his own choreography, punctuated by snappy cinematography from George Richmond, the Academy Award winner ensures that Hart is just as believable in action as he is exchanging calculated pleasantries with the film’s villain, Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson). Fans may never get to see Firth don a 007 tuxedo but, thanks to Kingsman, the actor proves he has the necessary charisma and flexibility to lead future action vehicles – often out-Bonding recent James Bond movies.
As stated within the film, a spy movie is only as good as its villains and the combined pairing of Jackson (doing his best Russell Simmons impression) and Sofia Boutella (as his bladed henchwoman Gazelle) are a fun set of opponents for Hart and the Kingsman. Unsurprisingly, Jackson is a scene stealer as Valentine – injecting laughable quirks that punctuate the character’s contagious charm and unrepentant insanity. Kingsman also features a strong cast of supporting players – led by Taron Egerton as Eggsy. Even though Hart is the biggest draw of the film, Eggsy is the central figure of the story – as he transitions from troublemaker to a tailored suit wearing hero. To that end, the juxtaposition between the young actor and Firth is especially captivating and, often, heartwarming – providing a unique and layered mentor/mentee relationship that isn’t often explored with such care in the spy genre. Rounding out the cast, viewers are also treated to genuinely fun moments from Mark Strong (Kick-Ass) and Mark Hamill (Star Wars 7) as well as Michael Caine (The Dark Knight Rises) and newcomer Sophie Cookson.
Vaughn and Goldman borrow heavily from espionage-thriller classics but through smart genre riffs and hyper-stylized action, Kingsman: The Secret Service manages to provide a clever twist on the spy movie format. That said, the movie won’t be for everyone – given that certain story threads aren’t as fresh or developed as others, and sensitive viewers will quickly be put-off by (now-standard) Mark Millar vulgarities. Nevertheless, Vaughn successfully balances a hefty amount of world-building, humor, action, and character drama into a tight two hour runtime – laying the foundation for a film franchise that, much like its main character, might be a little rough around the edges but delivers where it counts.
Kingsman: The Secret Service runs 129 minutes and is Rated R for sequences of strong violence, language and some sexual content. Now playing in 2D and 3D theaters.
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For an in-depth discussion of the film by the Screen Rant editors check back soon for our Kingsman: The Secret Service episode of the SR Underground podcast.
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