Kingsman: The Secret Service is a bloody gift from the Heavens! After such 2015 movies as Jupiter Ascending and Fifty Shades of Grey, this is the precise level of hysterical and intelligent awesomeness I did require. Directed by Matthew Vaughn (Snatch, Kick-Ass, X-Men: First Class) and based on a comic book series called The Secret Service, this film is seemingly inspired by an era in cinematic history when James Bond movies were actually fun. A character named Harry Hart points this exact thing out in Kingsman so I’m likely not far off.
An affectionate parody of the spy movie genre, the film focuses on a highly top-secret British spy agency known as “Kingsman”, where each member’s codename is that of a character in the Arthurian legend. The leader, Chester “Arthur” King (Michael Caine) has tasked his subordinates, including Agent Harry “Galahad” Hart (Colin Firth), to find one candidate each for the next agent to carry the “Lancelot” codename, as the last one has been tragically killed. Hart’s candidate is the son of a former “Lancelot”, a young and delinquent troublemaker named Gary “Eggsy” Unwin (Taron Egerton). Financially troubled and constantly pushed around by thugs working for his abusive step-dad, Eggsy is picked up by Hart and taken to a world he never knew existed; the HQ of Kingsman. A friendship between the two forms, and Hart’s attempts to transform the crude chav (if that’s the term) into a true, classy gentleman spy™ are very much fun to watch.
As Eggsy meets the other “Lancelot” candidates, including a friendly young lady named Roxy (Sophie Cookson) and a smarmy jerk named Charlie (Edward Holcroft), the lot of them are given various missions by Kingsman trainer and main tech guy “Merlin” (Mark Strong). Danger, conflict and obligatory hilarity ensue.
Meanwhile, an evil, lisping Internet celebrity turned billionaire played by Samuel L. Jackson (yes, those words in that order) is crafting a diabolical scheme that involves engineered SIM cards, mind control and violence. His name is Richmond Valentine, his assistant is a deadly woman whose weapon of choice is her unusually sharp prosthetic legs, and his plan involves the kidnapping of various celebrities, politicians and other famous people, including a meteorologist played by Mark Hamill of all people (Mark Hamill was a character in the source material so I trust you get the gag), and a certain cameo from a certain Swede that I don’t wanna spoil anymore than I already have.
Kingsman is, to cut it short, a damn fine film! The last film to make me grin like an idiot throughout almost 100% of its entire runtime was Guardians of the Galaxy, but that movie played with a genre I’m more familiar with, namely science fiction. I know very little of the world of Bond, but I could still get into the greatness that Vaughn had to provide with this here parody. He takes all the classic clichés, subverts some of them, and plays with the rest in a way that somehow makes them work, in spite of their triteness.
Some of the best gags revolve around all the creative spy gear and various gadgets that the Kingsmen are supplied with. I dare say, some of this stuff is cooler than majority of the things I’ve seen Mr. Bond use during my limited exposure to his franchise. I haven’t desired a life in the spy world this much since I saw Spy Kids as a child, although I think Kingsman is more brutally honest about the potential dangers and death toll. Oh and the fighting choreography, particularly Colin Firth’s, is about twenty times better so there’s that!
Furthermore, this is one of those film where the writing and the structure of the storyline is done absolutely right. Everything that happens during the climax and the third act are things that have been perfectly set up by some brief gag or line of dialogue previously in the movie, and even after a point where I became aware of what Kingsman was doing, this is still such a devastatingly smart and unpredictable film that, even if I knew that some great pay-off was coming, I could never guess exactly what was going to happen; and when it did, it was still absolutely spot-on and perfect!
The performances are also worth talking about. Of course acting legends like Colin Firth, Samuel L. Jackson, Mark Strong and Michael Caine are about as terrific as you’d expect them to be when working for such a skilled director, but what really impressed me was all the newcomers, like Egerton and Cookson, who did a remarkably good job in spite of not being especially big names. Hell, even the dogs are good actors in this movie so I think we can simply conclude that Matthew Vaughn works with some sort of ancient magic that the rest of us are too simple to understand. That, or he’s just a superb filmmaker. Either or.
If I were to think up any flaws in Kingsman, it would either be that some of the visual effects aren’t too spectacular, not that a spy comedy exactly needs to provide Interstellar-level imagery, and that Eggsy’s transformation from dim-witted street thug to secret agent capable of taking down an army of mooks single-handedly seems, I dunno, a little too fast. Mostly because none of the obligatory training montages show any of his or Roxy’s combat training. It’s mostly just them solving problems and avoiding traps. But now I’m really stretching to find something to complain about in something that, overall, is one of the most entertaining movies I’ve seen this year thus far.
This is a film that works on so many levels. When it doesn’t impress you with its greatly effective characters and performances, it intrigues you with its clever and funny use of classic spy movie tropes. When it isn’t wickedly hilarious, it’s instead strangely touching and effective in its drama. When it isn’t busy being gloriously violent, it’s being genuinely suspenseful and intense. When it isn’t being damningly smart and witty, well, then it just gives us a scene where a church full of moronic Christian bigots get brutally massacred one by one to the tune of Lynyrd Skynyrd‘s “Free Bird”. If that doesn’t sell you, I really don’t know what will.
Down below is a trailer and my final rating. Here’s hoping that the awesomeness of Kingsman hasn’t ruined my expectations in 2015 movies to the point of weighing down my enjoyment of Chappie, which I’ll probably be seeing on Sunday. Wish me luck, I guess.