Partway through Kingsman: The Secret Service, Harry Hart (Colin Firth) and Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson) decry how the fun, over the top spy films of their generation no longer exist. The bigger than life villains, quippy spies, and overblown plots to take over the world have been replaced by the super serious, brooding heroes like Daniel Craig’s Bond or Jason Bourne.
While this moment is a little too on the nose, it plays well into the film’s tone. Simply put, this film is fun. Kingsman fully embraces the excess of those crazy spy films of decades past, but adds modern, over the top style with sleek action and crude humor. A great cast, a willingness to push the envelope, and a loony world domination plot line come together for a film that hits more than it misses…which it occasionally does. There is a bit of ugliness to the film that sometimes takes away from the fun, but overall, this is a treat for fans of the spy genre.
“This Ain’t That Kind of Movie, Bruv”
Young Eggsy Unwin (Taron Egerton) is a troubled young man with a big chip on his shoulder. After a brush with the law, Firth’s Harry Hart helps him and brings him into the Kingsman, a group of suit wearing super spies. Believing Eggsy has the same potential as his Kingsman father, Hart sends the young man into training. In the meantime, Hart investigates Jackson’s Valentine as the media mogul begins giving away sim cards for free media access. As he uncovers Valentine’s plot to create a new world order, Eggsy has to step up and become the Kingsman Hart believes he can be.
The film’s plot is so out there, it is a little hard to take it too seriously. But that’s why it is so charming. It’s fun, like everything else in the film. Valentine’s plot to use social media technology as mind control has just enough roots in plausibility to make it somewhat believable, but it’s also so outlandish you can’t help chuckling.
Adding to that tone is the film’s amazingly silly but fun action set pieces. The Kingsman defy the laws of physics on several occasions in carefully choreographed fights. Watching Firth’s Hart take on a bar full of toughs is a sight to see, and that scene is only the tip of the iceberg. There is a scene late in the film in a church that encapsulates every aspect of Kingsman’s style. The crude humor, stylized action and over the top tone all come together in a mad sequence that defies explanation.
Speaking of Firth, his performance as Harry Hart is oozing with cool. The fact that the character maintains a gentleman’s demeanor throughout the crazy plot of the film make him the resident bad a**. Some may dismiss his performance as one note, but Firth manages to inject charm, be it a sly smile or a quick quip.
Jackson’s is great as Valentine, subtly underplaying the usual “Jackson” stereotypical role. That Valentine is squeamish at the sight of blood is a nice touch that makes the character charming. He does go crazy in certain scenes as is fitting for any spy film villain, but it works because the rest of his performance is done so well.
That said, this is a star making performance for Taron Egerton. Eggsy is our entry into this world of super spies and lisping megalomaniacs, so he has to be someone we can both relate to and root for. Egerton has great comic timing and has a natural charm that makes him a compelling screen presence. Eggsy believably goes from a cocksure tough to a young man overwhelmed by the spy world. You can’t take your eyes off of him throughout and he emerges as the true hero of the film.
The rest of the cast is solid. It’s nice to see Mark Strong as a good guy for once, playing the tough Kingsman tech Merlin. Sofia Boutella’s Gazelle, Valentine’s blade-legged henchwoman, is surprisingly human…even charming. It’s a nice play on the deadly villain’s sidekick.
Not For Everyone
As fun as Kingsman can be, there are times when it gets a little too crude. There is a subplot involving President Barack Obama that many might find offensive. Even though it is a very minor subplot, some will notice it. And its conclusion is handled in such a silly way, it is hard to take it very seriously though. In general, Kingsman’s original comic writer Mark Millar’s (Kick Ass) material has always had a mean streak that sometimes takes away from the overall experience. This film does away with most of this, but you can see some hints to that tone. It is especially present in a couple action sequences.
Kingsman is also very much a male-centric action film. It isn’t clear if this is done on purpose, as a salute to the spy movies of the 60s and 70s, but many of the female characters are not that important to the plot. Eggsy’s fellow Kingsman Roxy (Sophie Cookson) doesn’t seem to have any purpose. She is simply given a fear of heights and a loose bond with Eggsy. And that’s all. Granted, it would be an equal disservice for her to simply be a love interest, but she is an empty shell.
An Intriguing Franchise
Kingsman: The Secret Service has its flaws, but it is ultimately a fun tribute and spoof of the classic spy genre. While the offensive moments may overwhelm some, the filmmakers should be commended for letting their imaginations run wild. This looks to be the start of a fun franchise.
SCORE: 8 OUT OF 10