On the Silver Screen – Kingsman: The Secret Service
Matthew Vaughn’s Kingsman: The Secret Service is a stylish and quirky take on the spy genre based on the comic book The Secret Service created by Dave Gibbons and Mark Millar from the wonderfully insane mind that brought us Kick Ass.
Taron Egerton plays street kid Gary ‘Eggsy’ Unwin who is recruited by Colin Firth’s Harry Hart/Galahad to join the spy organisation Kingsman after one of their numbers is killed on a mission. While this is happening billionaire Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson) is moving forward with an evil scheme that threatens civilisation as we know it.
Sound familiar? It all should but that’s sort of the beauty of it. There’s nothing new here in terms of plot or structure but it’s handled so well that it doesn’t matter. Anyone that’s ever seen and enjoyed an origin story coupled with a mentor/mentee relationship will feel right at home here as will fans of classic Bond movies.
The film directly comments that it’s “not that kind of movie” when discussing serious spy movies along the lines of the Bourne franchise or the recent James Bond movies; instead opting to remind the audience of the more over the top and silly classic spy films with wise cracking heroes and over the top villains making it all seem so much larger than life. Kingsman: The Secret Service is exactly that sort of movie and wears that inspiration proudly on its sleeve.
It’s all so wonderfully tongue in cheek and comments on spy movies in the same way that Kick Ass comments on superhero movies. Vaughn shows a great deal of respect for the genre and has a lot of fun with it in the process. There’s plenty for fans of those kinds of movies to love here from the secret entrances, unassuming fronts for bases and all sorts of weird and wonderful gadjets disguised as everyday objects. The film even gives us debonair agents effortlessly wisecracking as they work on a mission.
Taron Egerton does a really good job in the lead role of Eggsy. His list of appearances is pretty small up until now making him a relatively untested actor. I hope that this will give him the recognition he needs to move onto bigger things as he’s really well cast here. Eggsy is distinct and relatable with plenty of character flaws that need to be overcome. Egerton clearly has a great deal of range with a great sense of comic timing. He always managed to land a joke when he needed to and remained engaging throughout.
Newcomer Sophie Cookson plays the female lead of Roxy and is introduced as a rival for Eggsy’s position within the Kingsman organisation. She isn’t featured all that heavily and has relatively little to work with in terms of characterisation but she is very capable at putting across what she’s given. I appreciated the lack of love story subplot as I was so sure the film would go down this route. Roxy is put in place to succeed on her own merits and develops more of a professional relationship with Eggsy than a romantic one.
Colin Firth takes on the mentor role and is great at it. He and Egerton have great master/student chemistry and some of their exchanges are absolutely hilarious. Firth has always been great at the “dry British wit” style of humour and it works really well here. I never thought I’d see the day where Colin Firth was involved in a competently staged action sequence where he takes down multiple opponents effortlessly. Even if it was probably mostly stunt performers and trickery it was still very impressive. None of the action sequences live up to the debut of Hit Girl in Kick Ass but they aren’t far off. The fast pace, insane camera movements and cartoonish violence help add to the overall sense of lunacy throughout the film.
Mark Strong puts on an impressive Scottish accent as trainer/IT expert Merlin. The character he’s playing is no stretch for Mark Strong who has played many similar character types in the past but he is as entertaining as always. His line delivery in his Scottish accent makes everything a lot funnier somehow.
Samuel L. Jackson turns in one of his more memorable performances as the villainous Valentine. He’s as eccentric and over the top as a 60s Bond villain and has a massively insane master plan to match. I loved how Jackson performed the character with a lisp and generally made him come across really awkwardly when talking to other people. It fit the character and added extra dimensions to any of his exchanges. His squeamish nature when it comes to violence and blood is always good for a few laughs too.
I don’t really feel that there’s too much to criticise here beyond the fact that the first hour has a tendency to drag in places and there’s some really cheesy acting throughout. Structurally if can feel a little uneven when it cuts between the villain plot as well as Eggsy’s training exercises that offer no real surprises. Once the story does get going it’s brilliantly entertaining and makes all shortcomings feel insignificant.
An immensely entertaining film with a talented cast and funny script full of references to classic spy movies.
Matthew Vaughn effortlessly bring this world full of colourful characters to life and manages to craft a story that straddles the line between serious and spoof deftly. This film wears the varied influences on its sleeve and proudly acknowledges them directly in the narrative. How shamelessly it references these films is part of the overall charm and provides some of the best laughs here.
Taron Egerton does a great job in the leading role here providing a nice surprise from a relatively untested actor. He has a lot of charisma and bounces off the rest of the veteran cast well. He’s very believable and has a great sense of comic timing.
Mainstays like Colin Firth and Mark Strong back Egerton up wonderfully. Firth’s turn as the mentor figure as well as being a lethally skilled spy is great to watch. It’s a role I had never expected to see him in but I’m glad he had the opportunity to do it.
Samuel L. Jackson’s over the top and socially awkward villain Valentine is one of the most unique performances for him in years. The lisp adds extra layers of comedy to his various interactions and every conversation he has feels distinct.
Kingsman: The Secret Service is no slouch when it comes to action scenes and has some really excellent sequences. None of them manage to live up to the timelessly memorable introduction of Hit Girl in Kick Ass but they really aren’t far off. The fast pace, rapidly moving camera and almost cartoonish violence makes them a joy to watch.
Some pacing issue bring down the first half of the film and the odd structure between the villain plot and a series of training exercises take some getting used to but once the plot really gets going it never really lets up. It’s enjoyable throughout but the first hour or so feels a bit too predictable in some places. If you liked Kick Ass then you’ll have a lot of fun with this.