Matthew Vaughn seems to be a fan of comic books. And violence. And crass humour. And subverting old cinema tropes. But I after seeing Kingsman: The Secret Service, I don’t think I mind all that much. Vaughn isn’t a stranger to the comic book film. After Kick-Ass, X-Men: First Class, and Stardust, he’s shown how well his kinetic style can work in the comic universe. He knows how ridiculous it all is. Nothing is taken too seriously and he thankfully recognizes how absurd his films are. Valentines Day weekend might seem like a weird weekend to release it, but with how female centric the holiday seems to be, Kingsman is the perfect counter-programming to the equally ridiculous sounding, 50 Shades of Grey.
Colin Firth stars as Harry Hart (code name: Galahad), our mentor into the, not quite, James Bond-ian world we are introduced to. Hart’s guilt over a previous Kingsman’s death gives him the motivation to watch over the man’s son, Eggsy (newcomer Taron Egerton). After a struggle with the police, Eggsy calls on Hart to ultimately help him out of his “thug” life and become a gentlemen/spy for the secret organization. With Hart, as one of the Kingsmen, joins Merlin (Mark Strong) and Arthur (Michael Caine), respectively playing this movies Q and M. All actors are up to the task of taking this spy send up into the stratosphere. Firth, in particular, is a stand-out as the gentlemanly, charismatic super-spy.
The villains are even more impressive. Samuel L. Jackson as the lisp-ridden, Richmond Valentine, is particularly fun doing his best impression of the oft-compared Spike Lee. Jackson, as well as the rest of its veteran cast, seem to be having the best time acting in years. While having little to do, even Sofia Boutella as Valentine’s prosthetic legged/blade wielding henchwoman, Gazelle, is also entertaining to watch.
Kingsman comes roaring through the screen with gleeful abandon. Vaughn should be known for his ultra violent tendencies and thankfully his films self-awareness is ultimately what makes them not so horrifying in their exploitation. And exploitation is definitely a term I’d use to describe heads exploding and bodies being eviscerated in the midst of a racist church sermon. Yet, I couldn’t help but have a ton of fun. Sure, it’s a little disconcerting to know that I’m laughing while I see a persons spinal column disassembled, but I feel Vaughn and co-writer Jane Goldman are there laughing with me. The undeniable British-ness of the over the top organization make it even funnier by comparison. Kingsman feels all over the place, in the best way imaginable. References to the old 60’s spy films, not just Bond, are current throughout, as are near shameless product placement for a scene or two. The action, while mindless, is well choreographed and geographically understandable in placement of characters, unlike past action films sans John Wick and The Raid series.
As much fun as it is, I do have minor gripes with it. The action and hilarity, while great, are no longer surprising after Kick-Ass and other films recently that haven’t held back from how gnarly things can get in modern cinema. I’m not expecting them to up the ante, nor do I really want them to (how much crazier can you get?), but it feels a little stale about an hour and a half into the two hour film. Also brings me to how overlong it feels. After certain events happen, Kingsman loses a bit of steam. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s still a little fun. I just felt a little exhausted by that point and perhaps needed a little breather before we got to the climax where shit, figuratively, hits the fan…again. And female characters are usually left in the background while all the men get to do something cool. But it’s also worth noting that Gazelle’s character in the comic was originally a man so that does show very, very slight progress in the comic book world.
You may have heard uproar about an egregious anal sex joke by the end of the film that is, arguably, uncharacteristic of the film, don’t let it detract from your enjoyment from a film that doesn’t seem to care all that much about being politically correct. Matthew Vaughn has crafted an excellent, self-referential look into all things British, violent, political, misogynistic, etc. Even if it’s only thinly skimmed the surface on certain subjects, Kingsman: The Secret Service is definitely one of the most entertaining times I’ve had at the movies in a long time. Now turn your brain off and enjoy.