20th Century Fox
The James Bond franchise is three films into its darker, more serious reboot phase (with a fourth due in theaters this Christmas), and while they’re arguably far better movies than the old-school, “traditional” Bond films they also leave the door open for someone else to lay claim to the world of goofy, fun-loving spy films. There have been a handful of contenders – Steve Carell’s Get Smart did big business in ’08 – but it’s time for them all to give up and turn in their laser-beam cuff-links.
Kingsman: The Secret Service is the action-packed, incredibly entertaining and overly sexist spy flick you’ve been waiting for. Sure it’s more Roger Moore than Sean Connery, but that’s okay!
Harry Hart (Colin Firth) is a member of her majesty’s other secret service, the Kingsmen, a top-secret organization of white men who work to save the world from evil villains and their dastardly plots. A mistake in the field years prior left one of their own dead, so when the man’s now eighteen year old son, Gary ‘Eggsy’ Unwin (Taron Egerton), gets himself into trouble Harry recruits the young man into the agency.
Gary’s training coincides with the efforts of a billionaire tech mogul named Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson) to fix the global warming problem by eliminating 99.9% of what he sees to be the cause – humanity. (That’s right, the super villain is a liberal when it comes to environmental issues – and Rupert Murdoch’s 20th Century Fox is distributing the film.) Harry and his Q-like tech-wizard Merlin (Mark Strong) investigate Valentine while Eggsy struggles through his training, but the megalomaniac’s murderous plan may not wait for any of them.
Director Matthew Vaughn and co-writer Jane Goldman are in familiar territory here, and it’s not just because they’re once again adapting a Mark Millar (Kick-Ass) comic book. The pair have collaborated on three previous features, and a common thread between them is their balance of energetic action and a strong sense of humor. Those elements sometimes come at the expense of a cohesive, smartly told story, but the results are never boring.
Kingsman’s over two hours long, but the forward momentum is so propulsive as to make it feel far shorter. Witty banter is the norm for all three central players as they interact with acquaintances and enemies alike, and Vaughn’s camera displays equal vitality in capturing the dialogue as it does the action. The score by Henry Jackman and Matthew Margeson is just as valuable as it fills the air with a spirited enthusiasm reminiscent of the liveliest Bond moments.
The cast is solid and game for anything too. Eggsy is our every-man hero and guide, and Egerton makes him an immensely likable lead both as a young punk in need of education and as the skilled agent he becomes. We buy his dramatic home life and thug-like street antics just as easily as we do his acrobatic crime-fighting abilities. Egerton’s a great find – this is his wide release debut – but it’s Firth who’s an absolute revelation as the senior agent still capable of dealing epic amounts of damage to those who cross him.
He does the expected fantastic job as a proper English gentleman, but it’s the unexpected part of his performance that leaves audience members wearing an immense grin on the face for much of the film. I don’t want him to do it, but after seeing this it would be easy to picture him headlining the next Luc Besson-written actioner with a 50+ year old lead. Firth is a part of several action beats here, and while a few of the scenes look to feature some digital face-mapping quite a bit of it is the man himself.
20th Century Fox
Firth’s (and the film’s) highlight is a sequence set in a church that’s guaranteed to be one of 2015’s best action scenes. It’s a bloody free-for-all as the congregation proceeds to tear at each other with murder on their mind, and the carnage is both excessively violent and beautifully choreographed. It’s easily the best of it kind since the bathroom fight in Edgar Wright’s The World’s End – which makes sense seeing as Bradley James Allan served as second unit director and action coordinator on both films. The action is fantastic throughout, from small-scale bar brawls to epic gun battles, and anyone jonesing for a bit of the old ultra-violence will not leave disappointed.
Sadly, and perhaps surprisingly, the same can’t be said for fans of quality CGI. There are some fine effects here, but there are also numerous sequences that feel unfinished or rushed. Some images actively look like animation while others have a digital sheen about them that makes them stand apart from the “live” action they’re a part of. One of the worst instances involves an inexplicably intentional choice by Vaughn and company to turn a sequence with exploding heads into a gag featuring stylized smoke instead of the fleshy mess an explosive cranium would actually become. The film isn’t shy about its bloodletting so it’s unclear why they chose this path, but the result is a visual flat-line.
Finally, for better or worse, Kinsgman bears more resemblance to Kick-Ass than it does to Stardust or X-Men: First Class, and that should tell you whether or not it’s your speed. Millar’s world is a crass and explicitly violent one where men are the heroes and women are mostly relegated to victims or sex objects. The two would-be exceptions to the female problem are Eggsy’s fellow trainee, Roxy (Sophie Cookson), and Valentine’s right-hand woman, Gazelle (Sofia Boutella). Of course Roxy, someone who should be Eggsy’s equal, whimpers, whines and requires his encouragement before she can accomplish anything. Gazelle, by contrast, is an incredibly efficient killing machine, but between her sexualized nature and weaponized, Oscar Pistorius-like blades in place of her lower legs she’s a fetishized creation.
This is less of a criticism than it is an observation. Your mileage may vary.
Kingsman: The Secret Service is a ridiculously entertaining blast from beginning to end. It’s also severely flawed, most notably in the CGI department, but while that keeps it far from being a truly great film it’s not enough to muffle the fun.
The Upside: The church scene; an ass-kicking Colin Firth; plenty of incredibly fun, beautifully choreographed action sequences; very funny
The Downside: Incredibly shoddy and inconsistent CGI; unsurprisingly sexist; narrative decision that leaves me indifferent to possible sequel; patriotic head explosion scene
On the Side: In Mark Millar’s source comic the character of Gazelle is a man with artificial legs.
Related Topics: Kingsman