The best way to describe the latest collaboration between filmmaker Mathew Vaughn and comic book wunderkind Mark Millar would best be described by the title of their last collaboration, Kickass! Vaughn and Co. have done it again. Turning another Mark Millar work into a bloody good time, literally.
The Kingsman are a super secret society of spies based in London whose activities and existence are known only to themselves. We meet Harry Hart, played by Oscar winner Colin Firth, a respected member of the Kingsman who believes it’s time to open their ranks to a more modern type of gentleman. This is how we meet our protagonist, Gary ‘Eggsy’ Unwin played by Taron Egerton, a punkish british youth, from the wrong side of the tracks and the son of Harry Harts former fellow Kingsman. After some brief world building scenes to establish these two distinct colorful sides of British society Eggsy is brought into the Kingsman’s recruitment program and our story takes off from there.
It’s obvious that this film is a love letter to classic spy movies of old, one character even professes his love of the fun sixties style spy flick, before they became all grim and gritty. Vaughn and Millar successfully find a brilliant blend of everything you know and love of old spy properties, guns, gadgets, gin, and girls, as well as modern, frenetically paced action sequences. There are multiple shout outs to classic Bond films, a little Get Smart, a dash of Austin Powers, plus nods to Bourne and Bauer. Kingsman picks and chooses the best bits from spy films both old and new to give us something familiar yet fresh simultaneously. Colin Firth’s Harry would be right at home sitting across from Connery’s Bond.The action scenes in this film are where things feel really new though, while still taking the handheld shaky style of Bourne or any number of action movies today, the blocking and staging of these scenes never becomes the motion sickness inducing blur of so many modern films. Even during gigantic fights, you never lose sight of whats happening and to whom. The only negative things you could say about the action in this movie is that it’s almost certainly going to offend some audiences, and that the best set piece by far happens two-thirds of the way into the film. Don’t misunderstand me here, the rest of the film is great, but personally the scene I’m talking about (I’m just going to say church and you’ll figure it out) is the biggest, baddest thing in this movie, the kind of scene that people talk about for years after. It’s hard to follow-up something like that but the filmmakers do a great job of coming close. Sam Jackson also gets kudos here for bringing us a new take on an old idea. His version of a Bond villain is smart, hip, relevant, and funny as hell. To say more about his role would ruin the fun.
The other area Vaughn seems focus on is class warfare. The struggle of the middle class and poor in contrast with an uppercrust of high society snobs who see themselves as better, smarter, and more important to humanity. There are some nods to other films that have dealt with the transformation of low-born to high-class, both in subtle story/ dialogue beats as well as outright being name checked. This part of the film is fairly by the book, if you’ve seen any number of other “poor boy introduced into rich mans world” type stories you can guess some of what will happen. There will be bullies who look down and underestimate our lead, he will have to work harder than anyone else and try to gain their begrudging respect. Pretty paint by numbers here, a few nice twists and gags along the way but nothing we haven’t seen variations on before.
Now that’s a whole lot of good there and while Kingsman: The Secret Service is a great movie it does have its flaws. The most glaring of which is a few prominent moments of very spotty CG work in the film. Namely, to my recollection, an opening shot of a giant building where we zoom in through a window looks painfully fake, a couple of elevator rides are obvious greenscreen effects, large aerial group shots suffer from World War Z’s rubber people syndrome, and a terribly bad face mapping on a stunt double during a scene that is in the trailer and was panned by several sites when the trailer came out. It’s amazing that when the film got pushed back from November they didn’t utilize that extra time to clean up the effects a bit.
There are also a few plot points that feel tacked on and a bit unnecessary but none of these bring the film down, they’re fun and harmless. There are a few story beats that have a certain crude or even mean edge to them. Writer Mark Millar is known to use extreme violence and sexual elements for shock value, and while most of that here is cartoonish and fun, a couple of moments, however fleeting, feel out of synch with the rest of the film and one specific part seems oddly politically motivated.
When it’s all said and done Kingsman The Secret Service is an amazing movie. It’s smart wit and fast action should be the model for any modern action movie. While still having stakes it doesn’t forget to have fun, and it realizes that not every movie has to be gritty and realistic. Also going forward from here if we don’t see more Colin Firth action movies I will be quite sad as he officially became a badass with this film. Sure to become a classic Kingsman is a must see.