It’s been a long time since I was really excited to see a spy film. I’m not overly intrigued by the idea of a “thriller” so unless it’s got an Ian Fleming story credit, I’ll be more likely to pass than not. But Kingsman: Secret Service has a secret weapon on its side: it knows exactly when to take itself seriously, and when not to.
Richmond Valentine (played by Samuel L. Jackson) has gotten it into his head that the only way for mankind to survive is to kill off a big chunk of the population and take some pressure off the planet’s resources. So, why not hypnotise the world into killing each other while keeping all the best people in a morally dubious hidey-hole? Why not indeed! The only people to stand in his way are the Kingsman, an organisation of tailors-turned-gentleman-spies. However, since a Kingsman recently suffered death by being cut in two, there’s a gap in the ranks: a gap the size of Eggsy Unwin (Taron Egerton), a rough kid with potential who is taken under the wing of legendary Kingsman Harry Hart (Colin Firth). But will he be enough to stop Valentine from carrying out his evil scheme? Well, it’s a film, so yes.
Like every good action film, the action in Kingsman starts when it should – seven seconds in to the sounds of Dire Straits. From that point the shots and punches rarely let up for a moment, speeding up when you need it, slowing down when it’s damn well worth it, only stopping to allow for a spot of exposition or let the audience catch their breath. Comic adaptation dream team Matthew Vaughn (director) and Jane Goldman (writer) carry on a lot of strong traditions from earlier collaboration Kick Ass, balancing bouts of bombastic violence with a bubble pop and rock soundtrack. That way the audience can appreciate the film’s prolonged violence for its choreography and cinematic rhythm. It’s in these demos that Firth really struts his stuff and gets to show off how to be sexy and English without being rigid or romantically confused.
It’s also worth mentioning that Jackson is 66, but that doesn’t stop him taking on roles that would easily baffle other actors his age. Sofia Boutella also stands out for her role as Gazelle, a scimitar-legged assistant to Valentine who acts as a lightening rod for a lot of the more volatile fight scenes.
There are really only two points of grievance within Kingsman. One is the use of CGI, which while colourful and at times spectacular (see everyone’s heads blowing up like fireworks in time to “Land of Hope and Glory”) isn’t of a high enough standard to match the rest of the film’s achievements. There were points when the sub-par effects were distracting and took away from what was going on on-screen, but fortunately you weren’t focussed on them for too long before something stupid cool took your mind off it.
The second downfall is the tendency the characters had to go meta with the concept of traditional spy movies – a concept that the film otherwise successfully fills with explosives and detonates. There are interactions between Jackson and Firth that make glaring references to how much they love the old Bond films, with a running line in the film being ,”It’s not that kind of movie”. While this does work as a wink to the audience from Vaughn and Goldman, it smacks of glibness and seems completely unnecessary – especially when its repeated throughout the film. At least they didn’t stick it on the movie posters.
Vaughn and Goldman took all the available canon for spy movies old and new, serious and parody, and took it apart chunk by chunk, skin and muscle and unnecessary fatty tissue until they were left with a rock-steady espionage skeleton. From there they brought their considerable experience from numerous comic book/action projects to build a hybrid of spy film that takes unabashedly from Bond and sticks a middle finger up at all the padding that more recent serious spy “thrillers” stack on top of otherwise wafer-thin plots. On the surface its jocular and brutal, bloody and ballsy, but at its core Kingsman is a kings-held screaming orgasm of a film. And it might know what you like better than you do.