Movie Review: “Kingsman: The Secret Service”

Colin Firth, Taron Egerton, Samuel L. Jackson, Sofia Boutella, Mark Strong, Michael Caine, Sophie Cookson
Matthew Vaughn

After subverting the superhero genre with “Kick-Ass,” the creative team behind that film (director Matthew Vaughn, co-writer Jane Goldman and comic book writer Mark Millar) has returned with an equally over-the-top homage to spy movies. Developed separately from the Millar-penned comic on which it’s loosely based, Vaughn’s film improves on that version in just about every way, delivering a smarter (but no less absurd) take on Cold War-era spy movies that embraces as many genre conventions as it breaks. A mix of the old and new school, “Kingsman: The Secret Service” is a lot cooler than its clunky title might imply – a hyper-stylized, gratuitously explicit action film that would make James Bond blush. After all, this is a movie that cartoonishly blows up Barack Obama’s head without even blinking.

The movie opens 17 years earlier when, while on a mission in the Middle East, secret agent Harry Hart (Colin Firth) is unable to prevent the death of a fellow agent. Feeling personally responsible, he visits the man’s wife (Samantha Womack) and young son, Eggsy, giving them a medal with a special phone number on the back should they ever need a favor. Fast-forward to present day and Eggsy (Taron Egerton) has grown up to become a lower-class delinquent who’s wasted his incredible potential. When Eggsy gets in trouble with the law, Harry bails him out, eventually recruiting him as a candidate for the same secret agency his father worked for, the Kingsmen, an independent organization of highly-trained agents who put their lives on the line to protect the world. While Eggsy undergoes the ultra-competitive training program (with only one recruit earning a spot as a Kingsman), Harry investigates a potential threat involving a tech-genius billionaire named Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson) who wants to save the Earth from the dangerous effects of climate change by wiping out most of humanity.

It’s hard to believe that Firth was never considered for the role of James Bond, because he’s perfectly cast as the sophisticated but badass super spy, a man capable of taking out an entire gang of thugs armed only with an umbrella, and look good doing it in his bespoke suit. Newcomer Egerton holds his own alongside the Oscar winner with the smarts and swagger required of the character, while Michael Caine and Vaughn regular Mark Strong add a touch of class in supporting roles as fellow Kingsmen. However, it’s Jackson (who else?) who steals the show as the megalomaniacal Valentine, creating an instantly memorable villain with a fashion-forward sense of style, a hilarious speech impediment (the actor’s idea, which the studio tried to have redubbed), and a vomit-inducing aversion to blood that it is comically ironic for someone trying to reboot the world with self-imposed mass genocide.

Many people are going to be quick to compare “Kingsman” to “Kick-Ass,” but while the former boasts the same punk-rock attitude, dark plot twists, and kinetic, no-holds-barred action sequences (including an extremely violent set piece inside of a church that rivals Hit-Girl’s blood-soaked exploits), “Kingsman” feels less like a satire of an entire genre than the product of a filmmaker who grew up loving spy movies. It has all the cool gadgets, a preposterous conspiracy, and a marvelously colorful villain whose main henchman (Sofia Boutella’s Gazelle) is equipped with deadly, prosthetic blades for legs. Why? For the same reason that Oddjob from “Goldfinger” has a razor-edged bowler hat: because it’s quirky and unique. “Kingsman” doesn’t get too caught up in trying to make any logical sense of it all, and that’s perfectly fine, because in the age of the overserious spy film (see: Daniel Craig’s Bond, the Jason Bourne series, etc.), this is exactly the bold, silly kick up the ass that the genre needed.