A film review by Craig J. Koban February 22, 2015


2015, R, 129 mins.


Colin Firth as Harry Hart  /  Mark Strong as Merlin  /  Samuel L. Jackson as Valentine  /  Michael Caine as Arthur  /  Jack Davenport as Lancelot  /  Taron Egerton as Gary 'Eggsy' Unwin

Directed by Matthew Vaughn  /  Screenplay by Jane Goldman and Vaughn, based on the graphic novel by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons

KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE is an exemplarily well oiled and fiendishly enjoyable action comedy that’s clearly made by people that covet comic books and spy movies.  

It’s not quite an on-the-nose homage of the genre made popular by James Bond and Jason Bourne, nor is it completely an affectionate spoof of those film worlds (akin to Austin Powers).  No, KINGSMAN occupies a tricky – but well-established – middle ground between both entities while wholeheartedly delivering on a strong quotient of high-energy action and subversive humor.  Most importantly, the film breathes substantial new life in a genre that I thought had all of the creative possibilities milked out of it already. 

All of this is thanks to the man behind the camera, director Michael Vaughn, who clearly doesn’t need to convince us of his comic book/action film geek cred (he made one of the better X-MEN films in FIRST CLASS and previous to that made the wickedly entertaining comic book satire KICK-ASS).  KINGSMAN is not Vaughn’s first foray into adapting a comic book for the big screen; KICK-ASS was based on the world of Mark Millar, who also created the KINGSMAN source material with Dave Gibbons.  Thankfully, the results with their second on-screen partnership displays the same level of free-wheeling creative gumption that we witnessed earlier, and KINGSMAN is certainly KICK-ASS’ equal on a level of playing fast and loose with genre expectations while maintaining a morbid sense of whimsy with its multiple pop culture referencing.  In lesser hands, KINGSMAN could have come off as pathetic fan service to the spy film milieu, but Vaughn and Millar honors the spirit of past espionage films without slavishly trying to copy them.

KINGSMAN also does not waste any time with overblown exposition either, which is a welcome relief.  The film opens with a relative bang in a sensationally orchestrated introductory scene that features the uber secretive…secret service…attempting to save the life and rescue climatologist Professor Arnold (played is a feisty and funny performance by Mark Hamill) from one of those obligatory evildoer lairs that sits atop of a large mountain.  One of the secret service men Lancelot (Jack Davenport) is brutally killed (literally sliced in half) by the villain’s double amputee henchwoman Gazelle (Sofia Boutella) that has he lower legs replaced by razor sharp blades that can cut through anything.  One of the other agents, Harry Hart (aka Galahad, played by Colin Firth), is forced to retreat from the botched mission and now must find a suitable replacement for his slain comrade-in-arms. 



Galahad has someone in mind.  Years ago he visited the young son of another slain agent and told the lad that if he ever needed the agency’s help to seek them out.  The boy, Eggsy (Taron Egerton) has now grown up into a rambunctious trouble making young adult that’s in desperate need of some life guidance.  In swoops Galahad to recruit the initially befuddled Eggsy into the service to replace his dead colleague, but first Eggsy must compete in not only a grueling boot camp, but he also must win the position while facing off in a series of increasingly difficult and dangerous training missions against other worthy candidates.  Galahad hopes that Eggsy will follow in his father’s footsteps, but while the lad tries as he can to become an agent the aforementioned villain of the film, Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson), has hatched a nefarious plan for world domination.  He was once a well-to-do billionaire technological genius that became frustrated with his inability to save the world from ruin.  As a result, he secretly launches a fairly ingenious plan of introducing to the world a SIM card that makes everyone’s cell phone work for free.  Alas, the SIM card in turn will also turn those that use them into zombified killing machines with the press of a big red button. 

One thing that KINGSMAN has going for it is world building, especially for the way that it toys with our overall sensibilities and familiarity with the spy film genre.  KINGSMAN keeps us on our toes and guessing throughout, which is kind of thankless considering the strong lineage of previous films that served as an influence on it.  The secret service itself – patterned on the Knights of the Round Table, hence the names Galahad, Lancelot and so forth given to agents – is wonderfully realized and the film really picks up steam during the middle sections featuring Eggsy’s arduous and mentally taxing training.  Beyond being a stellar and involving origin tale, of sorts, KINGSMAN has cheeky fun with its multiple Bond references.  The secret service here exists in a world populated by well known spy/action films, which allows for characters – especially during the most heated of confrontations – to debate the more overused clichés and conventions of these films.  All of the cinematic referencing here, of course, is done with all knowing winks to the audience and never fully takes you out of the film. 

KINGSMAN has a rock solid cast assembled as well featuring some obvious and not-so-obvious choices.  Colin Firth seems both pitch-perfectly and atypically cast in the role of the limitless dexterous and suave secret agent, perhaps atypical in the sense that most filmgoers don’t usually picture him as an ass-kicking one-man army.  Firth, despite all of the narrative lunacy that lurks in the background, gives a credible and serious performance as the spy mentor figure to Eggsy, which helps dramatically ground the more outlandish story elements.  Newcomer Egerton has the right balance of adolescent cockiness and wounded vulnerability that makes Eggsy and unlikely hero worthy of our rooting interest.  Samuel L. Jackson – if you can get over the initial awkwardness of his character’s would-be funny lisp – is considerably more understated than he’s usually accustomed to being playing his villain with an axe to grind with the world.  The fact Valentine feels hurt and misunderstood by humanity as a whole gives him a layer of relatable motivation to his wicked plan, which consequently makes him a far scarier adversary than his outward façade relays.  

KINGSMAN does not disappoint in the area of action, especially during one tour de force sequence featuring Galahad – while momentarily under Valentine’s cerebral control during the testing phase of his new SIM card – going on a lethal killing spree in an American church.  Hellishly and stomach-turningly gory and violent?  Yes.  Elaborately orchestrated and brazenly inventive?  Yes.  Vaughn’s films have come under fire for their wanton bloodshed, but the atmosphere of the violence is rarely played for anything beyond ludicrous, graphic novel inspired thrills, which helps weaken some of the accusations levied against them.  That, and watching the male suitor from LOVE ACTUALLY and the BRIDGET JONES films murder-death-kill his way through dozens of racist and bigoted Church goers is…I hate to admit it…kind of perversely exhilarating.  

Plus, relax people.  KINGSMAN is not played for solemnity.  Yes, it’s violent, but it’s also an unendingly silly film to boot.  Even when the film kind of gets derailed by a third act that gets a bit too crazy for its own good, KINGSMAN still remains a giddily enjoyable action thrill ride that never lets up, nor apologizes for its unique brand of eccentricities.  The unbridled spirit of comic books and spy films are all over it, and the fact that Vaughn and company somehow makes KINGSMAN feel fresh is to their credit.  Plus, any film with a sidekick pug for the hero named Jack Bauer is okay in my books. 

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