Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014)

A new class of spy has arrived.

Filmmaker Matthew Vaughn certainly made the right decision withdrawing as director from the debacle that was X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) in order to helm Kingsman: The Secret Service, described by Vaughn as a love letter to the old-time Bond movies and the stylish super-spy espionage films and television series he grew up watching, capers such as The Avengers (1961) and The Ipcress File (1965). Loosely based on the 2012 comic book, titled The Secret Service, created by Dave Gibbons and Mark Millar, Kingsman: The Secret Service marks the fourth consecutive teaming of screen-writer Jane Goldman and writer-director Matthew Vaughn, after Stardust (2007), Kick-Ass (2010) and X-Men: First Class (2011).

Come Spy with Me
Come Spy with Me

With the latest James Bond flicks, featuring Daniel Craig as the legendary MI6 agent, becoming increasingly and unnecessarily gritty — and a little too serious for my taste — Kingsman: The Secret Service brings that playful cheek back to the British secret agent/ spy game, offering a younger, street savvy deviation of the 007 formula, while gleefully pushing audiences’ favorite elements — elegant flavor, killer gadgets and eccentric super villains — to exaggerated extremes. A brilliant franchise-ready extravaganza, Kingsman: The Secret Service mostly plays out like a teen-friendly event picture, before taking a hard turn into excessively R-rated territory, with astounding results, making Kingsman a hugely enjoyable super-stylized, ultra-violent fantasia, and a must see for any spy-film genre enthusiast.

The picture tells the story of an elite spy organization, known as Kingsman, led by an old aristocrat, Arthur (Michael Caine), with its headquarters hidden behind a suit-shop storefront in Savile Row — a street in Mayfair, central London — accessed through a series of ‘Get Smart’ style covert doors and tunnels. When a recently fallen Kingsman, codenamed Lancelot (Jack Davenport), dies in a violent yet admirable attempt to free kidnapped scientist, James Arnold (Mark Hamill), a vacancy for a new agent arises. To fill this ‘job opening’ of sorts, guilt-stricken undercover operative Harry Hart (Colin Firth) — who goes by the alias Galahad — attempts to recruit an unrefined but promising street kid, Gary ‘Eggsy’ Unwin (relative newcomer Taron Egerton), the son of a Kingsman spy who had died at the hands of Galahad — in order to prevent the death of his fellow comrades — on a mission out in the Middle East some years earlier.

I spy ...
I spy …

Placed in the agency’s high-stakes, mega-competitive training ‘boot-camp’ program, with a group of other hopefuls — all snobbish prep school types — the potential sign-ups are tested to breaking point, to see who is worthy of becoming the next Kingsman super-spy. All the while, a far-fetched global diabolical threat emerges from a genius technology-tycoon philanthropist, Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson), intent on sparing the Earth from further environmental damage by eradicating all but a handpicked ‘privileged,’ with a ‘mass cull’ of the human race.

A master of his craft, Kingsman is possibly the best film of Matthew Vaughn’s thriving career, being an audacious and outrageously entertaining rollercoaster ride, distinctly and unashamedly British, whilst featuring some of the wildest visuals ever committed to such a high profile picture. The flick looks spectacular, with glossy hyper-polished imagery and adrenaline-fueled action sequences. Particular praise must be given to the fight scenes — favoring long takes and kinetic camera movements rather than the nauseating and choppy edits that seem to be the norm in Hollywood these days — as Kingsman showcases some of the most inventive and loopiest action presented on screen in a long while, with Vaughn’s dynamic rough-and-tumble attitude standing out as a key influence. Complete with a larger than life soundtrack — Iggy Azalea’s ‘Heavy Crown,’ featuring Ellie Goulding being a sure standout — and a magnetic score, from composers Henry Jackman, Kick-Ass (2010), and Matthew Margeson, Kick-Ass 2 (2013), meshing nicely with the lush over-the-top visuals, Kingsman: The Secret Service solidifies Vaughn’s place in the contemporary blockbuster film circuit.

'Suit up and prepare for battle.'
‘Suit up and prepare for battle.’

Vaughn, along with long-time screenwriting partner Jane Goldman, have penned a thrilling and electrifying script — beginning in moderately familiar territory, before spiraling out-of-control in a zany and bold third act — which delivers maximum amusement throughout; however the picture’s ‘turning-point,’ a brutal jaw-dropping bloodbath — all part of Valentine deranged plot — and the ‘explosive’ climax finale, may be a little too offensive or distasteful for some to stomach. Nevertheless, Kingsman: The Secret Service is as much a comedy as it is a stark action flick, employing clever and cheeky satirical ways of spoofing the spy-genre — and its many clichés — while still managing to maintain a serious tone. The film suggests that behind closed doors the world’s most cultured men prefer to feast on McDonald’s; while its tough, streetwise protagonist concocts a far snobbier martini recipe than Bond could ever dream up.

The sharply dressed cast, thanks to costume designer Arianne Phillips, Walk The Line (2005), all give fun tongue-in-cheek performances, embracing the silliness of the script, while keeping in tune with its mischievous energy and bleak undertone. Leading this ensemble is Colin Firth, The King’s Speech (2010), who plays Harry/ Galahad, coming across as an extreme caricature of perceived elegance; Firth nails the role, embodying the epitome of the ultra-cool gentleman spy, capable of dispatching a room full of goons without so much as wrinkling his custom-tailored suit. Vaughn regular Mark Strong, Kick-Ass (2010) is a bit of a scene-stealer in the unlikely role of Kingsman agent Merlin, coming across as the film’s Quartermaster type character, similar to ‘Q’ from the 007 saga. In what could be a career-launching performance, Welsh actor Taron Egerton plays Gary ‘Eggsy’ Unwin, the square-jawed, bulldog-like troubled roughian — albeit having a genius IQ, being an Olympic gymnastic contender, and previously having trained with the marines — who eventually transitions into a super-spy, balancing the humor, confidence, wit and priggishness of the part impeccably. And let’s not forget about Roxy, played by gorgeous television actress Sophie Cookson in her first big-screen appearance, forming an allegiance with underdog opponent Eggsy, through their apparent shared weaknesses, supporting and assisting one another while both rivaling as potential Kingsman candidates.

If Looks Could Kill
If Looks Could Kill

If what they say is true, and a spy film is only as good as its villains, Kingsman must be at the top of its class, as the nefarious antagonists of the picture really stand out as being oddly unique and highly unconventional. Samuel L. Jackson, Django Unchained (2012), is masterful as the flamboyantly wicked Valentine, adding this own idiosyncrasy to the character’s persona in the form of a lisp, claiming that the most memorable adversaries in the James Bond series have all suffered from some form of physical dysfunction, quirk or abnormality; it’s also ironic how the villainous Valentine is squeamish at the mere sight of blood. And because every great foe is judged in part by the quality of his/ her henchpersons, Kingsman introduces Algerian dancer Sofia Boutella, StreetDance 2 (2012), as Valentine’s lethal assistant, Gazelle — a sultry vixen with legs that have been replaced by razor-sharp blades.

Slick, subversive, and above all, vastly engaging, Kingsman: The Secret Service could be the best 007 film that just so happens ‘not’ to star Ian Fleming’s iconic James Bond character, pushing all the prudish values that underline the spy-flick into absurdity but making them work the same way the classic Bond pictures did so effortlessly. Though its violence may be seen as gratuitous or overdone — particularly to those who lack a morbid sense of humor — Kingsman is an absolute blast, with top-notch visuals, excellent performances, nifty direction, and a youthful revitalized take on the secret agent, this thunderball certainly reinstates the genre’s licence to thrill. Don’t miss it!

4.5 / 5 – Highly Recommended

Reviewed by S-Littner

Kingsman: The Secret Service is released through 20th Century Fox Australia