– Summary –
Director : Matthew Vaughn
Year Of Release : 2014
Principal Cast : Colin Firth, Michael Caine, Samuel L Jackson, Mark Strong, Taron Egerton, Sophie Cookson, Jack Davenport, Mark Hamill, Sofia Boutella, Edward Holcroft, Michael Caine.
Approx Running Time : 129 Minutes
Synopsis: A young man joins a highly secret spy organization to stop the evil plans of a philanthropic entrepreneur’s world domination.
What we think : Oh man, what a grand time I had with this film. Kingsman is an all-out assault on the senses, both visually and aurally, deftly subscribing to the cinematic ideal that you don’t have to weigh down your audience with meta-references and pop-culture winks to win over an audience in the name of “fun”. Fueled by a violent streak and propelled by Vaughn’s eye-catching direction, Kingsman: The Secret Service is a hugely fun time with a genre I once thought tapped-out of new ideas.
Worst. Job. Interview. Ever.
If I was to ask you to name a handful of current directors with a blemish-free record of delivering solid, successful, hugely entertaining movies, odds-on you’d have Chris Miller and Phil Lord in that list. Perhaps lesser known, though no less interesting and compelling an auteur, Kick-Ass and X-Men: First Class director Matthew Vaughn, also belongs in that company. Vaughn’s less mainstream than Lord and Miller, but I’ve yet to see a film he’s made that wasn’t an utterly entertaining delight. Kingsman: The Secret Service, sees Vaughn return to the Mark Millar well (he cinematized Millar’s Kick-Ass comic to magnificent, sequel-spawning success) to bring to life yet another comic book franchise, this time about a group of highly secret gentleman spies, modeled after Ian Fleming’s James Bond, and their mission to thwart a Steve Jobs-esque billionaire tech wizard. Violent, kinetic, and an absolute blast, Kingsman will have you guffawing and wincing in equal amounts.
Yeah, Kingsman owes a lot to James Bond. The film goes a long way to acknowledging this foundation, with a few lines of dialogue about “old gentlemen spies” in which Colin Firth’s upper-crust Galahad spars verbals with Sam Jackson’s lisping Valentine, making the point about where this film – and to a large extent, the Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons comic book – gets its tone. Where Kingsman deviates from Bond is both in its violence, of which this film is rather gleefully graphic, and its comedy, which is less up-front or wink-wink than Fleming’s iconic spy ever was. Kingsman’s a bit of a hard nut to crack, thematically.
On the one hand it’s aimed squarely at the glib, nearly saccharine action elitist club, with Vaughn’s razor-sharp camerawork and editing once again propelling this story along with thunderous visuals equal to the dynamite sound and music mix. On the other hand, Vaughn’s tempestuously violent excess threatens to send this film into a hard-R rated slipknot of darkly comedic narrative bloodthirst that feels out of whack with the story’s essentially superficial story. What am I saying? The story, the characters, don’t necessarily work with the level of violence and carnage Vaughn inflicts on the viewer. That said, this is balls-out rocket-ride fun, and even when things don’t work like they ought, Kingsman’s sheer enthusiasm jettisons doubt and settles down with punk-infused heart that wins more than it loses.
Firth, leading from the front as the elegantly coiffured and manicured Galahad, goes well against type (almost) as the stiff-lipped Galahad, the “Ethan Hunt” of the Kingsman spy organization. After an accident leaves one of his team dead, he approaches the widow’s son, Gary “Eggsy” Unwin (Taron Egerton), with a medallion, which the young lad grows up keeping. After getting himself into a spot of both with some local hoods, Eggsy makes contact with the Kingsman group, and is mentored by Galahad to become a secret agent. The Kingsman’s recruiting agent, Merlin (Mark Strong), is tasked with winnowing out a legitimate candidate from a group of willing participants. As Eggsy begins his training, Galahad continues to pursue the clues leading to an evil plot run by billionaire philanthropist Richmond Valentine (Samuel L Jackson), who has plans for world domination.
Kingsman: The Secret Service is almost, so very close, to being an Austin Powers parody of spies. Where it isn’t, however, is the film’s strongest asset, and that’s young Taron Egerton as Eggsy. I’ve not seen Egerton in anything before now, but the nuance and screen persona he has, and the chemistry and natural charm he rapports with Firth and his other co-stars, I admit to immediately being impressed. It’s his role that shoulders a lot of the emotional burden of the film, and to his credit, I think he’s damn near faultless. Firth, meanwhile, is as classy as always, delivering the humor and ribald action sequences with equal measure of a man knowing the joke’s on him. Indeed, Kingsman is filled with ironic jibes and plentiful entendres. Watching Firth take down a septet of West London hoodlums inside a bar is worth the price of admission alone. Then you add Mark Strong’s approximation of Batman’s butler Alfred to the equation and you have a film just punching well above its weight with exuberance.
The film’s cast roster just feels flavored to perfection. Noteworthy performances by Sam Jackson, affecting a hilarious lisp alongside his usual rancorous persona, as well as a fatherly Michael Caine, a sublimely great cameo by Jack Davenoport (the Pirates Of The Caribbean movies), and a terrific Mark Hamill appearance, and Kingsman not only hits its marks, it hits them spot on and with gusto. Nobody, not even the second and third stringers, puts a foot wrong here, and even if it’s Vaughn’s handiwork behind the camera, you just know his attention to precise detail and exacting standards made everyone lift to accommodate his vision. You can just feel it.
As much as I’d like to say the film had a load to do with Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons, I’d be shortchanging the writing team who delivered a smack-down screenplay that shudders with energy and crackles with wit. Vaughn, co-scribing with regular partner Jane Goldman, have crafted a story designed to showcase not only the cast’s exacting performances, but Vaughn’s dynamite style of directing. Kingsman is so well constructed, so brilliantly shot and edited, it feels like magic. Hell, it is magic.
I’m really loathe to spoil the film’s punchlines, or tread to loudly upon the many twists and surprises awaiting the virgin viewer, but I tell you, this is gonna be a high-rotation flick in my house for many years to come. It’s violent like Kick-Ass, devilishly witty, sublimely shot (DP George Richmond deserves his own wing at the conservatoire of cinematography, he does such a great job), with a punchy soundtrack and effortlessly organic score by Henry Jackman (Captain America: The Winter Soldier, X-Men: First Class & Big Hero 6) and Matthew Margeson. Kingsman: The Secret Service opens with a bang, concludes with a blast, and is just a roller-coaster ride of adventure, fun and ultra-violence carried out with debonair wit and a sly, ironic twist of heart.
For a good laugh, be sure to check out my mate St Pauly’s WTF review of Kingsman!
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