Title: Kingsman: The Secret ServiceDirector: Matthew Vaughn
Starring: Colin Firth, Samuel L. Jackson, Mark Strong, Taron Egerton, Michael Caine, Sophie Cookson, Sofia Boutella, Samantha Womack, Mark Hamill
Plot: Gary “Eggsy” Unwin (Egerton) is an unrefined street punk who finds himself given a chance at redemption when he is recruited by Galahad (Firth) a member of the secret spy organisation Kingsman and soon tasked with stopping he villainous billionaire tech philanthropist Richmond Valentine (Jackson)
Right from the start its clear that reality is very much an afterthought for Vaughn as his team of super spies set about taking out a group of middle east terrorists with the various explosions they cause turning into the title credits. At the same time the agents of the Kingsman organisation are undeniably British in their approach to their work, as they are made up of well-spoken and smartly dressed agents who use the names of the knights of the round table for their codenames, making them of course the polar opposite of Eggsy who lives in a council flat with his mum (Womack), baby half- sister and abusive stepfather.
While the two hour run time might seem bloated for this kind of popcorn spy film, the pacing is handled well by Vaughn who uses the first half of the film to cover Eggsy’s training by Merlin (Strong) whose methods frequently threaten the lives of the potential candidates, a fact actually pretty open about as he requests the candidates fill out the details on their personal body bags before they can start training. At the same time he thinks little about throwing them out of plane with a failed parachute or flooding their sleeping quarters while they sleep all which add to the films impressive action sequences, with Vaughn manging at the same time to work in a healthy dose of humour to the proceedings with Eggsy being lumped with a pug after mistaking it for a bulldog when the candidates are made to choose a puppy to look after and train.
Refreshingly Vaughn is continually more than happy to play around with the audiences expectations with the expected passing of training not happening and Eggsy failing to graduate rather than passing with the usual flying colours when he refuses to shoot his now beloved pug when requested by Kingsman head Arthur (Caine) making his eventual journey into the Kingsman ranks an interesting one to follow especially when we have such a fun relationship between Colin Firth’s super spy Galahad and Eggsy helped further still by the great on screen chemistry that both Firth and Egerton share. Firth of course playing up his established persona of the well-spoken upper class Brit as he takes Eggsy through the importance of tailored suits and attempting to bestow on him lessons in manners and chivalry. At the same time Eggerton’s journey from chav to gentlemen spy is made only the more believable thanks to a strong performance by the newcomer, who effortless transfers from one persona to the next.
Unquestionably the real draw here though is with the films action sequences, which manage to go well above the expectations laid out in the trailers, with Vaughn racking up an impressive pile of casualties, as he crafts huge set pieces such as the showdown in Valentine’s mountain top lair and more impressively Firth taking on a church full of people driven into a psycho frenzy by Valentine’s tech in a scene made all the more giddily enjoyable by being set to the strains of Lynyrd Skynrd’s “Free Bird”. The action scenes throughout constantly providing to be inventive while the camera is held at the centre of the action and moving with such fluidity it really puts the action up with the likes of “The Raid” films and certainly a higher standard of action than we have come to expect from these kind of blockbuster. At the same time Firth whose only real action scenes before this have been his two fights with Hugh Grant in the Bridget Jones films, here shows himself to be the kind of surprise action hero that Liam Neelson proved himself to be in “Taken”, while the fact that Firth did 80% of his own stunt and fight scenes really only making it the more impressive when you see him effortless flowing from one opponent to the next, while amusingly even turning his umbrella into a deadly weapon.
What is really surprising here though is just how violent the film is with fights frequently turning into bloody and brutal affiars with anything which can be turned into a weapon frequently being used so, while nothing compares to the mass head exploding sequence at the films finale set to the tune of Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance”, though the fact they are exploding not in bloody showers of brain and skull but rather colourful puffs of smoke like fireworks I couldn’t help but feel was more a decision to ensure the film wasn’t lumped with a higher rating. Needless to say it’s still one of the more memorable scenes.
The other strength of the film is in its casting with Samuel L. Jackson clearly having a blast as Valentine who shakes up the usual villain model with his aversion to violence and blood preferring to leave the heavy lifting to his henchwoman Gazelle (Boutella) and her razor sharp bladed prosthetic legs who might be the most interesting villain since the clockwork gasmask clad Karl Kroenen in “Hellboy”. Elsewhere Michael Caine is on great form as he continues to pick up the senior spy roles that would have gone to Sean Connery was he still acting though here he once more gives us the great personality shifts we got with “Harry Brown” while hinting that he too was originally from the same humble beginnings as Eggsy. More surprising though is the appearance by Mark Hamill which I couldn’t help but feel should have been accompanied by the same kind of highlighting arrow that he got in “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back”.
On the downside Vaughn’s world crafting is painfully limited with society being divided into two groups of the privileged and lower class with no attempts to provide a middle ground for these two groups while at the same time no doubt reinforcing the general opinion that Brits are either cockneys or snobs. Equally frustrating is the sloppy ending which seems to deal that getting anal sex off a princess is in same way a modernisation of the typical Bond ending and as a result means that the film ends on more of a stumble than the high five its building up to.
Unquestionably this is an exciting and revival for the spy genre, reminding us that it doesn’t have to be bogged down with dour faced seriousness while laying the foundation which an exciting series can be built from, especially with a sequel already in the works at the time of writing which will no doubt determine if this series is more than a one shot film hung on a fun gimmick.