Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015)

02/14/2015  By  Joseph Wade     Comments Off

Early on in Kingsman: The Secret Service, secret agent Harry Hart (Colin Firth) lays a world class beating on a group of hoodlums, explaining to them the centuries-old dictum that manners maketh the man. With a single catchphrase and some insane choreography, the latest from director Matthew Vaughn stakes its claim as the first truly memorable action film of the year. It falls somewhat short of greatness, but when it clicks, Kingsman is electric.

Unlike MI6, Mossad or the KGB, The Kingsmen operate independently to make the world a safe place for polite society. They’re a crack team of ladies and gentlemen all code-named after Knights of the Round Table, and have apparently pilfered MI6’s entire armory for their own personal use. After one of his colleagues is killed in action, Harry (codename: Galahad) selects a young hood named Eggsy (Taron Egerton) to groom as his replacement. Eggsy is the image of wasted potential, but Harry sees something greater in him. In the midst of training the next class of recruits, the Kingsmen catch wind of a plot by eccentric tech mogul Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson) to annihilate humanity.

Valentine’s plan is one of the neat little idiosyncrasies of the film. He’s a film believer in Gaia theory, that the Earth is a living organism, and sees humanity as a virus on the verge of killing its host. The planet is headed toward cataclysm one way or another, he says, and so it behooves him to be the one to nudge things off the cliff. And of course, every last detail about Valentine’s plan amplifies its ridiculousness, so trying to explain the hat-on-a-hat weirdness of it all would almost surely spoil the fun. Suffice it to say Valentine’s henchwoman Gazelle (Sofia Boutella), whose legs are razor-sharp running blades, is somehow not the strangest cog in his machine.

Using spy movie clichés and James Bond parody largely as window dressing, Kingsman hews closer to the tone of Men in Black or even Vaughn’s own X-Men: First Class than to any of the bona fide 007 films. The gadgetry takes all the Bond staples — the poison knife in the shoe, the hand-grenade lighter, etc. — and adds a handful of even goofier toys, like bulletproof umbrella guns, signet ring tasers, and weather balloon rocket launchers held over from the Reagan administration. And no gadget that Harry introduces goes unfired, either; Chekhov would be so proud.

Cheers, Harry Palmer.

While most of the cast is game for everything Vaughn throws at them, Colin Firth undoubtedly makes the most of it. An invention of Matthew Vaughn and co-writer Jane Goldman (who cherry-picked elements of Mark Millar’s comic “The Secret Service” and trashed the rest), Harry Hart walks through the movie with a levelheaded swagger; a true gentleman with brass balls and fists of steel. Taron Egerton carries much of the proceedings, giving Firth plenty of chances to steal the show. His wholesale theft of the film culminates in a church shootout filmed in a single frenetic take and set to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Freebird.” To call this sequence a showstopper would be putting it mildly.

At this point, it’s become clear just what kind of filmmaker Matthew Vaughn is. He’s not shy about indulging in wacky flights of fancy or disturbing acts of violence, but underneath his films’ rougher edges lies an enormous heart. Kingsman establishes Eggsy as your typical young degenerate, but it also makes a point to paint him as endearingly selfless. He coos at babies, worries about his mother, and does everything in his power to raise a pug during basic training. Having a character care about the well-being of a puppy may seem like cheap “Save the Cat” stuff, but given how exceedingly violent the rest of the film gets, Eggsy raising a puppy becomes a detail that matters.

Of course, as fun as Kingsman often is, it’s not perfect. Valentine’s evil scheme doesn’t completely make sense (and teasing out the implications afterward is a straight-up exercise in madness). In fact, most of the film’s exposition feels perfunctory, like they realized all they really had to do was set up a franchise first and the story would could later. The Kingsman boot camp scenes work best, largely because at this point there isn’t any actual plot to distract us. You could argue that the nonsensical plot is another way for Vaughn to pay homage to the classic Connery/Moore-era Bond films, and maybe they are, but I don’t buy that. I do hope this becomes a franchise, though, because these are characters worth revisiting, and I have faith that Vaughn can find more uniquely bizarre ways for Eggsy to save the world.

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Coherent Plotting
Some Fairly Cut-Rate CGI
Colin Firth: The Action Star We Never Knew We Needed
A Ridiculous Rule-The-World Scheme
Hamtastic Bit Parts for Michael Caine and Mark Strong

About Joseph Wade

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Joseph Wade is secretly three bulldogs in a trenchcoat. Their favorite movie is Turner & Hooch.