kingsman_2Year: 2015
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Writer(s): Jane Goldman, Matthew Vaughn, Mark Millar, Dave Gibbons
Region of Origin: US
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Rating: R
Digital, Color, 129 mins

Synopsis: A spy organization recruits an unrefined, but promising street kid into the agency’s ultra-competitive training program just as a global threat emerges from a twisted tech genius. (Source)

If you didn’t get the hint from X-Men: First Class, director Matthew Vaughn really wanted to make a swingin’, groovy spy film. He finally gets his wish with Kingsman: The Secret Service, another one of his collaborations with writer Mark Millar. If you’re familiar with Millar’s work (Kick-Ass, Wanted), you know that his provocative, button-pushing style can be a bit self-sabotaging, but Vaughn’s mostly steered clear of Millar’s worst qualities to take the spy-genre into modern day – his film’s darker, faster and more outrageous than ever, but above all fun, without sacrificing the genre’s playful roots or becoming a Bourne clone (something even the newer Bond films have succumbed to). The results are at times hilarious yes, but Austin Powers this ain’t; instead, we get something akin to Bond unhinged. Crossed with an incredible origin story, the film gives us a new breed of spy, mixed with the right amount of irreverent wit, a dash of social commentary and epic stakes. If Bond is the Beatles, then Kingsman: The Secret Service is Led Zeppelin at the Madison Square Garden, turned up to eleven and ready to blast the lid off the place with some ultra-violent licks and one behemoth of an adventure.

The titular organization that the film centers on is one that’s been around for sometime. They consider themselves distinguished gentlemen above all, but are deadly when it comes to upholding the safety of the greater good. They’re almost like a secret society of sorts, dubbing themselves the new knights and free from the politics of government run intelligence agencies, while running autonomously of them as well. When one of their team falls during a failed rescue attempt and the supposed victim is found free under suspect circumstances, the Kingsmen find themselves under a predicament. Their task is two-fold, to get to the bottom of a conspiracy involving a billion-dollar tech celebrity named Richmond Valentine, and to replenish their ranks. A veteran Kingsman, Harry Hart (codenamed Galahad) proposes a young boy named Eggsy Unwin, a talented, but unmotivated misfit to enlist for the team. Up against more traditionally “qualified” applicants, Eggsy uses his street smarts to fight his way to the top of the chain while Harry and the Kingsman investigate Valentine’s sinister scheme.

Colorful is the best way to describe the film, both aesthetically and tonally, as Vaughn blasts through spy tropes to reinvent and refresh the genre into a broad, yet brutal yarn that allows him to have his cake and eat it too. A fan of the Roger Moore-era Bond films, Vaughn takes the absurdity of his influences and dials them up to the max, allowing for a plot that sees the maiming of just about every body part, unexpected McDonald’s meals, bespoke bulletproof suits, brainwashing sim cards, a church massacre, and a glorious final showdown at the super villain’s hidden lair. Rest assured the film’s insane plot points are matched only by its kinetic action set pieces, which are in turn aided by some unabashedly nutzo-gadgets and high-flying acrobatics. Those tied down to realism or both a stringency to the old or new-school Bond will quickly learn that this film is its own beast, dancing to it’s own brutal rhythm while cleverly dissecting the class barriers that distance the film’s different groups of characters (including a few jabs at the all-powerful 1%). At it’s heart, that’s what the film’s about, a moving ahead without forgetting the past. All of the film’s characters realize this as well, with it being a motivation to their actions as they find out how to fit into the modern age just as a new dawn is about to begin.

kingsman_5Like the old films of which this one is based, Vaughn again relies on strongly memorable characters in addition to his flights of fancy, but this time goes a bit further, not just making drawing us in with how crazy they are, but at times making them feel relatable for an unexpected dose of catharsis. As the primary Kingsman, Harry Hart, Colin Firth finally gets to be his own version of Bond. As one of the most versatile actors out there, Firth brings the gravitas the film needs and contrasts strictly with the film’s irreverence, serving as an anchor of sorts to give everything a strong base. He’s incredible in every scene even if he’s underused. Don’t take that as a knock to the story, as this one isn’t really his and that’s okay – here’s hoping to the spin-off where he gets to really flourish though. This is really Eggsy’s story, played with brilliance by Taron Egerton – this guy’s a lightning bolt frankly! Egerton has the charm to make his character’s rebellion endearing and dangerous. The way he transforms in the film is the crux of it, with him being the gap between old and new school as he learns that being a gentlemen isn’t something one is born into but something one learns; I expect big things from him. As the film’s villain, Samuel L. Jackson turns in a memorable wacko with Valentine. Dressed in crooked baseball caps, purple and pink outfits and a lisp, we find him actually pulling of a character we haven’t seen him do before. Jackson can become self-parodying at times, but this isn’t one of them. His henchwoman Gazelle is a scene stealer as well. Played by dancer Sofia Boutella, she’s a kind of character in the vein of The Spy Who Loved Me’s Jaws. She’s armed with a pair of razor-sharp blades for legs which lend the film some of it’s most insane action, and she too has the confidence and presence to leave a mark even when she’s restricted to the sidelines. Mark Strong and Michael Caine are also welcome additions that send everything over the edge.

The film may admittedly skew a bit young, but then again, as the film’s themes of adaptation suggest, it’s about being something new and modern . It’s not quite parody but closer to cheeky satire, proving that Vaughn is an expert at delivering escapism with just enough substance to cut through the noise. Kingsman: The Secret Service is the most fun I’ve had in a while, and though it’ll be called a lot of things, it’s most of all sleek, subversive and cool.

SG