Scott F Evans
Kingsman: The Secret Service is a welcome respite to the weaker, post-Oscar cinematic offerings we normally get in February. Directed and co-written by Matthew Vaughn (and loosely based on the comic book miniseries Secret Service by Mark Millar), Kingsman is a fun, R-rated action comedy. On the surface it seems like the film is a parody of the long running James Bond franchise, but Vaughn’s film has a lot more on its mind than just poking fun at the venerable series.
Kingsman is sold as a spoof of the 007 series. But it has more in common with the mid 1960’s Bond knockoffs like the Flint and Matt Helm series, or The Avengers, and The Man from UNCLE television shows. There are similarities in tone to the Roger Moore Bond films, but Kingsman is much broader. It’s a farce, and there’s an absurdity that is fully embraced. It doesn’t run from or downplay some of the more ridiculous elements on display. But unlike (and much better than) the Austin Powers series, Kingsman is also a surprisingly effective action film.
The film is centered on a team of elite British gentlemen spies, all code-named after King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. When one of them is killed on a mission, the remaining Kingsmen must nominate a replacement to fill the empty slot. Here’s where this film separates itself from other spy movies. It asks the question, “What makes a gentleman, genetics or environment?” It’s also not afraid to take a definitive stand on the matter. Modern action heroes all fit an identical type: the boorish rebel, unshaven in designer leather and shades. Kingsman goes the opposite way and presents us with elegant, dapper protagonists. They’re all decked out in bespoke double breasted suits and eyeglasses that nod back to the 60’s era spy Harry Palmer.
Colin Firth is clearly having a ball as Harry Hart, codenamed “Galahad”. Playing completely against type, Firth is urbane, refined and lethal… deftly handling many of his own fight scenes. Also turning in an excellent performance, Samuel L Jackson as billionaire Richmond Valentine. Jackson is clearly channeling Russell Simmons in style and speech with his trademark baseball caps and slight lisp. Valentine is genocidal, but he’s sort of got a point. Michael Caine (the original Harry Palmer) shows up as Arthur, the leader of the Kingsmen.
Mark Strong is also good in the relatively thankless role of Merlin, the “Q” of the Kingsmen. Relative newcomer Sofia Boutella plays Gazelle, Valentine’s assassin henchwoman. She’s good in this mostly physical role. With her legs digitally replaced with CG blades, she gets many of the fun action sequences.
The standout of the film is Taron Egerton as our main protagonist: Kingsman trainee Eggsy Unwin. He’s a low class street punk whose father was an agent. Egerton wisely plays him with just enough crassness, that he doesn’t lose your sympathy. You cheer his arc from street kid to refined gentleman.
The script, co-written by Jane Goldman, is witty and filled with spy movie references. Still, the film never really feels derivative. Even if it does occasionally travel down well-worn paths, the film is so charismatic and lively that you immediately forgive it. Kingsman is neither empty-headed action nor pretentious musings on class. It’s able to expertly balance the two and deliver on both fronts.
Vaughn nails the pacing of the film. He keeps the story moving without shortchanging character and plot to rush to the next action scene. He lets us actually connect with his leads (a rarity in modern action cinema). This movie has also introduced a new perspective on shooting and editing action… that might just become the new ‘bullet time‘ (See: tech used in the original Matrix movie that became so overused that it eventually became a joke and was abandoned altogether).
The scene is a lengthy hyper-violent melee in a church. The final version is edited to look like one long take. It manages to look kinetic, but not confusing. Vaughn impresses in Kingsman… and makes me thankful that he turned down the trite X-Men: Days of Future Past to direct this fresh take on the spy genre.