'Kingsman: The Secret Service'
Dapper British gents gallivanting across the globe for classy murderous adventures have defined a whole genre at this point. There’s James Bond, of course, along with all of the anti-Bonds and Bond parodies. The sneakily subversive director Matthew Vaughn (‘Kick-Ass’, ‘X-Men: First Class’) has now crafted his take on the genre, and it falls somewhere in the middle of the extremes. The affection for the source material is clear, but the snark comes through just as strongly.
What emerges is a playfully mainstream semi-blockbuster with just enough nasty impulses around the edges to serve up good fun for those who want a little more than the usual whiz-bang fluff.
The Kingsmen are a super-secret organization serving Her Majesty and the greater good by killing off baddies in well-pressed suits. A lisping super-villain (Samuel L. Jackson) has recently emerged, slowly recruiting a variety of notable celebrities, scientists and world leaders into some sort of mysterious plot. What that dastardly plot entails is unclear initially (you know, like how spy movies work), but the Kingsmen are on the case. They even send out one of their top men in an attempt to save a stuffy British scientist played by none-other-than Mark Hamill. That agent fails quite spectacularly, however, ending up split right in half. So the Kingsmen led by Michael Caine and the delightfully dapper Colin Firth are in the market for new recruits. Harry Hart (Firth) sponsors a lower class lad named Eggsy (Taron Egerton) to join a team of possible new super agents in a round of death-defying training, while he heads out to slowly gather recon on Valentine (Jackson) and his super-villain shenanigans. It’s the type of adventure that can only end in an elaborate secret base filled with uniformed henchmen, and so it does. Thankfully with Vaughn, his longtime writing partner Jane Goldman, and comics legend Mark Millar in charge, none of the expected beats play out quite as expected.
The easy way to describe ‘Kingsman’ is that is does for James Bond super-spy silliness what ‘Kick-Ass’ did for superheroes. Like that twisted little cult oddity that also sprung from the minds of Vaughn, Goldman and Millar, ‘Kingsman’ takes the piss out of a popular genre and amps up the sensationalism to cartoonish hard-R levels, while still providing the wholesome old genre entertainment in a filthily fresh new package. The tone is sardonic and irreverent, mixing low-level lads humor with sophisticated genre games nimbly in a giddy sugar rush of entertainment.
With each passing film, Vaughn’s skill with spectacle grows, and ‘Kingsman’ is filled with comedically nasty set-pieces sure to have audiences cheering. In particular, a scene in which Hart slaughters 50 people in a church (a bigger body count than I thought I’d see Colin Firth achieve in his entire career) or an almost inexplicably bizarre exploding-heads climax hit levels of stylish slapstick violence that might even make Tarantino jealous. Vaughn and his creative team know the Bond routines quite well, conforming to them and subverting them with enough unpredictability to keep things fresh. At times, they even slot a little social commentary into the mix. What emerges is a grab bag of entertainment that’s just as thrilling as you’d hope and as messy as you’d fear, but ultimately more than worth the price of admission.
It certainly doesn’t hurt that the cast is so damn good. Firth steals the show by combining that charming befuddled Britishness that made him so beloved with explosions of bloody carnage no one could have expected, in a role that might shift perceptions on the actor if enough eyeballs spot it. Caine is Caine in all the good and bad ways. Ditto Samuel L. Jackson (who visibly has more fun on screen here than he has in any non-Tarantino production for years). Even newcomer Taron Egerton manages to hold his own alongside those prestigious talents and others like the dearly underrated Mark Strong.
For those who enjoy mainstream entertainment tainted by twisted imaginations, the film is an absolute joy filled with enough WTF moments to keep your jaw-wagging throughout. (In particular, Jackson’s henchwoman with lethal running blades is an inspired touch.) It would be a lie to say the movie is without flaws, though. Some of the raunchy humor steps too far into tastelessness and the explosions of ideas often lead to narrative muddle. Not to mention the fact that the giddy genre romp is rarely quite as intelligent or rewarding as promised. However, those issues thankfully fall into the nit-picking variety. Overall, ‘Kingsman: The Secret Service’ offers a mix of mainstream rush and clever genre inversions that finds its way into blockbuster filmmaking far too irregularly. It’s a bit of filthy fun worth cherishing, especially for anyone who loves a good exploding head gag. (And honestly, who doesn’t?!)