Kingsman: The Secret Service ****
28 January 2015
Adapted from the acclaimed comic book by Jane Goldman (Stardust, The Woman in Black) and directed by Matthew Vaughn (Layer Cake, Kick-Ass) Kingsman: The Secret Service is a sit back, put your feet up, go with the flow romp. It doesn’t pretend to be anything else, and it achieves its goals admirably.
Harry Hart (Colin Firth) is an agent with a super-secret undercover organization hidden behind the façade of an exclusive tailor’s outlet in London. When one of the Kingsman agents is killed in action, a brief, intensive selection process begins through which a replacement will be found. Whilst the majority of the potential recruits are public school educated and born with silver spoons in their mouths, Harry’s proposition is Gary ‘Eggsy’ Unwin (Taron Egerton), a streetwise kid from the wrong side of town and a pitiful history. With death or expulsion the penalty for failing each task, Eggsy battles prejudice as well as aptitude tests in a bid to become a Kingsman.
From the opening titles of Kingsman: The Secret Service we know we’re up for fun. The credits tumble out like rocks from exploding walls as Vaughn sets the tone of adventure and derring-do. We think we know where we’re going but Goldman and Vaughn have formed a reliable partnership that maintains the ability to surprise, to appall and to shock simultaneously. This is tongue-in-cheek, logic be damned magic.
Throughout Kingsman: The Secret Service we are treated to bloody, violent, beautiful choreography that leaves us wincing, laughing and admiring the audacity of the mayhem they spread across the screen. The church sequence is a marvel to behold and a scene that Tarantino must wish he had created first. As for the grand, spectacular finale, well, let’s just say you’ve never seen fireworks like this! It is a visual triumph that is, in an odd kind of way, mind-expanding. Riotous, beautiful and very funny indeed.
One of the great joys of Goldman’s and Vaughn’s collaborations is that they seem not to care too much what anybody thinks. They just do it. They know the rules and they play the Hollywood game but they do it their way. Product placement has long been a standard of filmmaking, and though there is plenty of it on display here, one particular example is the funniest, classiest most blatant since, well, ever!
Like Goldman’s and Vaughn’s other work, Kingsman: The Secret Service doesn’t take itself seriously. It is joyfully camp at times, frequently taking digs at the genre it is mocking. In the Roger Moore years, James Bond became a buffoon, an unbelievable pastiche of himself. Here, Bond gets a makeover and frivolous fun is on the agenda throughout. All the ingredients are here: a super villain, excess, beauty and gadgets. This is gadget heaven and umbrellas have suddenly become cool.
Colin Firth is clearly having an absolute blast as the suave agent. Who needs Paddington to boost your cinematic profile when you can shoot, stab, smash and bludgeon this stylishly? Firth is a class act and this is proof once again that there is far more to him than simply the stiff upper lip persona.
Samuel L. Jackson is on scenery munching duty the as Valentine, a twisted tech genius holding the world to ransom under the guise of being its savior, and why not? There’s a certain amount of ham in his performance but it works perfectly here and he’s in good company.
Egerton makes for a fine, watchable secondary hero that we may perhaps find it easier to identify with but he’s not in the same league as Colin Firth or Michael Caine and does not easily drag our attention away from them. Mark Strong’s accent takes a little while to settle in but he, too, brings light humour and a certain gravitas to Kingsman: The Secret Service, as we have come to expect from his presence.
There are plenty of gaps in the plot (at what point does Eggsy actually learn to fight properly?), and occasionally the humour is a little too obvious and slips below the level Vaughn sets, but all of these glitches and flaws are forgivable when a film is this much fun.
Unfortunately, when a film is as much fun as Kingsman: The Secret Service, the temptation (and pressure from the studio) must surely be there to forge a sequel. Let’s hope Goldman and Vaughn resist that money making exercise and leave Kingsman to stand proudly as a unique experience that thrills and entertains completely.
Another film review from The Squiss.
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