James Bond First Class with a cheeky grin and a spoonful of the old ultra-violence.
Taking the well worth spy movie and injecting a bucket load of adrenaline while maintaining the style and genre keys, Vaughn has brought the visual style from Kick Ass and X-Men First Class with him and the humour from Snatch and Lock Stock And Two Smoking Barrels to combine for a riotously entertaining film.
First things first, this film does not take itself seriously, there are lots of nods to Bond films, the action genre and the plot itself is taken straight from the most ludicrous Moonraker era 007 archives. It thrives as a joyous experience because of this though, our lead Eggsy is a true Londoner, hanging in pubs, dressing sharp and supporting Milwall like a true muppet. His voice is real, its reflective of the youth audience that grew up and tired of the old spy shtick, the audience that reveled in a grittier Jason Bourne. They even reference the Pygmallion transformation the character is expected to go through, name checking that bit of cynicism in the back of my head as a well to do takes in a street urchin and promises them the world.
The plot sees young Gary Eggsy" Unwin following his fallen fathers footsteps into a private secret service in England, The Kingsman. He is lead by Harry ‘Galahad’ Hart, played by Colin Firth and coached by other Kingsman such as Mark Strong’s Merlin and Michael Caine as Arthur. As Eggsy works his way through the trials of becoming a Kingsman, Valentine, a villain comparable to Elliott Carver in Tomorrow Dies Today, is plotting evil involving chemicals with an environmentalist focus. There is no love story, there is no fable to be learnt, there is just in-jokes and balls to the wall action. If you know your action film trope, its somewhat paint by numbers, but still a wild chase that ups the stakes higher than you could dream of.
Kingsman provides a thrill a minute throughout its 130 minute run time, placing chases, fistfights and explosions everywhere the budget would allow it seemingly. This boys own fun frolic could have easily degenerated into a Transformers style brain numbing affair, but it is the classic British humour that brings it back to earth. We are reminded of the tension between the upper and lower classes, we get sight gags, profanity and callbacks to keep us roaring and sneering in our seats. The violence is also very graphic, some scenes feel like we are watching a Tarantino or Synder film for all the slow motion stylized violence and creative death. The language is filthy, you can’t possibly imagine you are in the James Bond world, each cockney expletive is a reminder that you are watching a piss take of the genre just as much as it is an homage. Kingsman also successfully cuts out much of the fat that bogs down action movies such as romance or social messages, instead we are given a protagonist that will appeal to young male audiences as well as females, this is James Bond without the age gap or the misogyny.
With a cast featuring classic supporting actors like Colin Firth, Michael Caine, Mark Strong and Samuel L Jackson, Kingsman was always going to be a catalogue of classy acting. Firth is dapper yet dangerous, Caine is mysteriously posh, Strong is smug in his Q style role and Samuel L Jackson can play a megalomaniac villain as good as any other, chewing the scenery like he has done for decades now. Young lead Taron Egerton looks like he stepped straight off the set of Football Factory into this role and his characters bewildered but brash confidence and constant heroic endeavor fit the man perfectly. He is instantly likable and fills the role while many of the other young supporting cast fade into the wallpaper, little more than bland stereotypes.
There is a real need to open your mind for a film like this. The 3rd wall is broken by references constantly and i’m sure there was a discussion at some point about whether they should have somebody just straight up wink at the camera after a punchline, but if you can take the film for the self aware beast it is then its very enjoyable. Visually we get a sharp world with large establishing shots as we roll around the World, its visual scope matching the soaring classical score as is appropriate for the genre. Towards the end of the film my brain started to click back into gear and I grew to tire of some of the action, but it is a minor quibble as the final credits left me wanting more and more.
Kingsman: The Secret Service has been suggested to be Shaun Of The Dead for the Spy genre, and i think that is apt in many ways. It feels like it was made by someone who really loves the genre, the source material graphic novels play with similar concepts that have been gloriously recreated on screen. The British humour is perfect in keeping the parody from reaching a farce and the cries for a sequel won’t be far off if the right audience is found. A highly recommended film for anyone who likes action, espionage, parody or Samuel L Jackson in a top hat.