If Quentin Tarantino had actually opted to make a James Bond movie and been uninhibited by any obligations to 007 cannon or traditions, the end result might very well have been something in the realm of Kingsman: The Secret Service. To be fair, Tarantino would probably have made an even better film, but filmmaker Matthew Vaughn has a supremely entertaining one in his own right here. Somewhat in the same vein of Kick-Ass, but focusing on deconstructing the spy genre instead of the superhero origin story, this movie again manages to deconstruct while also working as a loving homage to the genre as well. It’s not an inherently easy feat to pull off, but Vaughn, along with his co-writer Jane Goldman, is two for two in this particular field. Featuring an incredibly playful performance from Colin Firth as well as a breakthrough one from Taron Egerton, there’s tons to like here. Kingsman: The Secret Service isn’t exactly high art (in fact, one of the biggest laughs in the entire film involves the prospect of anal sex), but it’s pretty clever and just a ton of fun. It’s a real blast to watch, infusing a huge shot of energy into a time of the year where the new releases often leave a lot to be desired. Kingsman: The Secret Service isn’t going to wind up an Oscar contender (at least outside of potentially a long shot technical nod), but it’s the best thing I’ve seen in 2015 so far.
As we see in a quick prologue, the Kingsman are a long standing English organization of spies that work independent of the government. They’re descended from the aristocracy and decided to use their high society power for good. In the present day, one of the top agents is Harry Hart (Firth), who is tasked by his boss (Michael Caine) with figuring out what media mogul Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson) is up to. A Kingsman has died previously investigating Valentine, so as per protocol, a new agent must be recruited. Harry chooses to eschew a posh pick and go with the rough and tumble son of a former recruit who died saving his life. At first glance, Gary ‘Eggsy’ Unwin (Egerton) doesn’t fit the mold at all, but as he moves through training, he finds a potential calling. Things continue on in a Bond like way, as a globe hopping adventure is afoot. I don’t want to spoil most of the best parts, but I will say that as we learn Valentine’s plan, the payoff is absolutely ridiculous, in the best way possible.
I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that it’s great to see Colin Firth get to kick some ass. Firth has never been tasked with this sort of role before, but boy is he up to the task. Confident, smooth, and the epitome of cool, he definitely gives you an alternate version of Bond that you can really dig. Firth is first billed, but in many ways he’s a supporting player, helping to usher Taron Egerton into the story (which plays into the redemption narrative that Firth’s character engages in). Egerton should become a star, as he’s got the acting chops and action movie skills that will serve him well for years to come. He balances out the hard and soft edges of the character with aplomb. As for Samuel L. Jackson, he gets to chew the scenery as a soft spoken villain with a distain for blood and violence, putting yet another unique character on his resume. Michael Caine is perfect cast but a bit underserved as the head Kingsman, while Mark Strong makes for an effective alternate reality Q of sorts. Also in the cast we have Mark Hamill in a small part, along with the likes of Hanna Alström, Sofia Boutella, Sophie Cookson, Jack Davenport, Tom Prior, and Samantha Womack, just to name a few, but the highlight was really watching Firth kick ass.
Matthew Vaughn has already done this sort of subversive work before with Jane Goldman, as they both took Mark Millar‘s Kick-Ass to the big screen, as mentioned above. Kingsman: The Secret Service is also a Millar product, and it definitely shares the same DNA, though this is a bit of a purer film, if that makes sense. This is a plenty violent outing, but there’s more of a kindness here, in a way. Vaughn seems at his best here, as opposed to when he’s tied down by studios in something like the admittedly solid X-Men: First Class. With the shackles off, he takes down genres with gleeful abandon. This is the sort of work I want to continually see him and Goldman tackle. Visually dynamic, amusing, and with a plot that Ian Fleming would approve of (not to mention some of the set pieces), this might be Vaughn’s best writing and directing yet. There are tiny things to pick at, but this overall a rollicking success.
I really hope that Kingsman: The Secret Service becomes a breakout February hit. It really deserves to catch on, since it could very well have widespread appeal. Anyone who liked Kick-Ass should love this, while those who couldn’t get onboard with that one might be converted here. From Firth to the witty way it goes about playing with the spy genre, the film just fires on all cylinders. I can’t recommend Kingsman: The Secret Service enough. It’s an absolute delight that really blew me away.
–Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!