WRITTEN REVIEW: Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015)
Kingsman: The Secret Service
Directed by: Matthew Vaughn
Written by: Matthew Vaughn & Jane Goldman
Starring: Colin Firth, Taron Egerton, Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Caine, Mark Strong & Sofia Boutella
Music: Henry Jackman & Matthew Margeson
Release Date: January 29th 2015
When it comes to balls-to-the-wall, high concept action, few directors leave as much of a lasting impact as Matthew Vaughn and in recent years he’s become a creative force thanks to critically acclaimed graphic novel adaptation ‘Kick-Ass‘ as well as effectively reviving the decried X-Men franchise with ‘X-Men: First Class‘. He’s also a producer on ‘Kick-Ass 2‘ as well as the upcoming ‘Fantastic Four‘ reboot. So, it makes sense for his next big movie to be another graphic novel adaptation; this time of the Mark Millar and David Gibbons 7-issue series “The Secret Service”.
Despite the title and the focus on super-secret-spies, ‘Kingsman: The Secret Service‘ actually borrows very little from its source material. This isn’t a bad thing, however as Matthew Vaughn took the cynicism and less-desirable elements out of Mark Millar’s “Kick-Ass” comic and actually made the rare movie adaptation that’s better than the source material. Does Vaughn strike again or has he warn himself out with all the enthusiasm?
Kingsman is an international agency tasked with eliminating terrorist threats and like-minded villains across the world with as much class as possible. One of the agents, codenamed Lancelot, is killed on a dangerous mission and a replacement must be found. Galahad (Firth) puts forward Eggsy (Egerton), an unemployed, street thug who has great potential to be a Kingsman agent, but he must make it through a rigorous selection process. Meanwhile, Richmond Valentine (Jackson), a multi-billionaire entrepreneur, has plans for world domination and it’s up to the Kingsman to stop him.
The basic foundations of the plot are ripped out of any early-James Bond movie or other spy movies inspired by the same. Lavish locations, classy agents, megalomaniacal villains complete with a sexy hench-woman, as well as secret-lairs, inconspicuous gadgets and weapons. ‘Kingsman: The Secret Service‘ is a love-letter to those glossy, far-fetched spy movies, actively decrying the recent smattering of “gritty” and “dark” espionage flicks that have been permeating the genre over the past decade. Thankfully, great production values, smart production design as well as an impeccable cast allow ‘Kingsman: The Secret Service‘ to put its money where it’s mouth is.
The aforementioned cast are terrific with Colin Firth on reliably top-form. There’s already an inherent charm to seeing the Oscar-winning actor for ‘The King’s Speech‘ single-handedly wipe the floor with his opponents in a bar-fight, but the fact that he’s actually committed to the character of Galahad adds new dimension to the movie. Also, despite being 54 years old, Firth is actually a convincing action-star thanks to great stunt-work and clever fight choreography. But more on that later.
Despite Firth being the cast stand-out, the movie finds its centre in Taron Egerton as Eggsy, making his feature-length debut in ‘Kingsman: The Secret Service‘ as a British street-chav who dropped out of education in order to look after his mother. It sounds like a cliché and sentimental origin…which it kinda is…but thanks to smart visual story-telling and a grounded, performance by Egerton, the character becomes an endearing protagonist. He’s a character you can easily root for and Egerton has a natural on-screen charm. It can’t have been easy finding an unknown actor skilful enough to sell the transition between street-hardened youth and classy Kingsman agent, but Egerton finds that balance.
The rest of the cast are great as well with renowned actors like Michael Caine, Mark Strong and Samuel L. Jackson giving great performances, particularly Jackson who is clearly relishing the role of an OCD neat-freak with a lisp but a taste for gangster-attire. There’s also a running joke that he can’t stand the sight of blood despite having as a hench-woman someone whose legs have been replaced with large knives, but this running gag doesn’t really go anywhere other than in the direction of a predictable pay-off.
Speaking of the hench-woman, Sofia Boutella is a great sub-villain as Gazelle and she makes for an intimating presence and a genuine threat to the highly-trained Kingsman thanks to her erratic fighting style and brutal approach. And while Sophie Cookson (also making her feature length debut here) is good in the role of Roxy, another potential Lancelot replacement, it’s hard to view her role as anything other than just “the girl”. Although the fact that there’s no insinuated romance between her and Eggsy was greatly appreciated. Hopefully if there are sequels (oh PLEASE let there be sequels), Roxy will play a more plot-specific role.
If there’s one personal issue with ‘Kingsman: The Secret Service‘, it’s the treatment of Hanna Alström who plays a kidnapped Scandinavian Princess. Without getting into too much detail, she serves as Eggsy’s “reward” for a job well done and…while I can understand her inclusion is to pay tribute to the womanising ideals of 1960s and 1970s James Bond movies, that trope died out for a very good reason and it actually feels pretty uncomfortable in a modern context, especially when it comes to the character of Eggsy who has treated every other woman he’s met in the movie with respect and dignity.
While we’re discussing flaws though, there’s one plot-digression near the end of the 2nd act where Eggsy goes through the contrived step of giving up being a Kingsman. This wouldn’t be so bad, but the circumstances surrounding this don’t make much sense, even in the context of the organisation, so it feels like a forced scenario in order to extend the run-time. Him leaving the Kingsman doesn’t even affect the plot long-term as he’s basically allowed to come back without a fight a few scenes later.
Despite these niggles, ‘Kingsman: The Secret Service‘ is a brilliant spy-homage that’s also got a brain in its head with well-thought out political allegories. Without getting too much into spoilers, Valentine’s plan involves manipulating the general population into destroying each other while he and the world leaders and other billionaires remain safe in their bunkers. It’s an extreme allegory for the 99% vs. the 1%, where Valentine is able to use his money and influence of the media, as well as his authority over phones and the internet to turn the impoverished against each other while the government (wholly complicit in this) ride out the storm.
‘Kingsman: The Secret Service‘ posits that those with influence and resources as part of the 1% should use what they have in order to defend and support the overwhelming majority. It’s not about class, or riches, or gadgets that makes you a Kingsman/Gentleman. It’s the attitude. Thankfully, ‘Kingsman: The Secret Service‘ does the smart thing by parlaying this message with incredible violence. If you’re gonna lecture audience members, at least be entertaining, right?
The action in ‘Kingsman: The Secret Service‘ is an absolute sight to behold. Bold and brutal fight choreography, dazzling camerawork as well as exquisite moments of colourful gore give the movie a very well deserved 15 Certificate, with an action scene in a church already a contender for best action scene of 2015 and we’re not even out of January yet. Matthew Vaughn has always had a penchant for hard-hitting action and he’s on top-form here. Be warned though, the trailers have been severely underselling the brutality of the action and the amount of blood in the movie. If the violence in ‘Kick Ass‘ was too much for you, then avoid ‘Kingsman: The Secret Service‘.
Gadgets such as an umbrella-shotgun, a space-suitable arm-chair and lighters/grenades are cut from the same cloth classic Bond movies, but are given a new lease on life with 21st century production values and the Kingsman aesthetic. Forget Harry Potter’s Hogwarts with their robes, wands and owls. I want to be a Kingsman now with stylish suits, awesome gadgets and limitless resources.
Henry Jackman and Matthew Margeson’s score is also terrific, though it’s Jackman’s influence that can be felt most prominently. Jackman is one of the most underrated modern composers with amazing scores under his belt (‘X-Men: First Class‘, ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier‘, ‘Wreck-It-Ralph‘ and ‘Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter‘ have incredible music) and he’s on top-form here with a distinct and memorable score, as well as an epic main theme fitting of the Kingsman.
Despite a few minor missteps that are fortunately very brief and negligible compared to the bigger picture, ‘Kingsman: The Secret Service‘ is a ballsy, in-your-face, spy action film that should not be missed. It’s incredibly well crafted with amazing action sequences, committed performances from a sterling cast as well as something to say about the power struggles taking place in the modern day between the ordinary man and those with monetary influence.
‘Kingsman: The Secret Service‘ is to spy-movies what the 1987 ‘Robocop‘ was to futuristic sci-fi; an admirably assembled, brutal, action movie that had the smarts to say something meaningful while also being stylish and accessible. The way the plot unfolds is brave and unexpected, while also giving plenty of leeway for expansion with potential sequels, which I really hope happens. Highly recommended…as long as you have a stomach for the violence.
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Posted: 30th Jan 15