At one point in film history, the spy movie was the most popular action genre for escapism and adventure. It essentially was the precursor to the superhero movie. It had secret identities, action that spans the globe, and technology that is beyond our grasp. The spy genre hasn’t died, it just transformed into something more realistic and hard-hitting, which is seen in the current Jason Bourne and James Bond franchises. Director Matthew Vaughn’s Kingsman: The Secret Service is inspired by the Sean Connery era of James Bond, combined with the graphic level of action expected by modern audiences. The result is a truly unique and fun film.
The story revolves around a society of spies that have been protecting the world secretly for years. Colin Firth plays Agent Galahad, a veteran member of the organization who consider themselves the modern Knights of the Roundtable. In the opening we see that a new recruit to the Kingsman threw himself over a grenade saving the entire squad, while giving his own life. This sacrifice haunts Galahad, who offers his services to the fallen agent’s family if they one day need it. Eggsy played by Taron Egerton, is the fallen Kingsman’s son and is raised around criminals. He proves to be good-natured and an adept thief, while clearly being on a self-destructive path. Galahad offers him the opportunity to try out for the Kingsman and the fun begins.
Vaughn is able to capture the sense of adventure and imagination of old-school James Bond films, while injecting the kinetic action and wit found in his previous films like Kick-Ass and X-Men: First Class. He uses a lot of quick cuts and shaky cam techniques, however he is able to stage the action so that it is easy to follow. They also have fun with spy technology in the movie that feels both retro and futuristic simultaneously. And who can resist the charm of an amnesia dart that fires from a wrist watch?
The movie starts off with literal explosions, with the resulting rubble forming the film’s title sequence. It makes an immediate statement that the violence in the film will inform the story and is so cartoonish that you shouldn’t dwell on the consequences. While Vaughn keeps the emphasis on the fun, there is a running theme of nature versus nurture and the tension between the classes. In the training program, Eggsy stands out as the only recruit who didn’t come from a privileged background. He carries that chip on his shoulder throughout the film and part of his arc involves his transformation from hoodlum to gentleman spy.
Kingsman isn’t a straight forward spoof or satire of the genre, due to Vaughn and co-screenwriter Jane Goldman injecting the movie with a self-awareness that makes the film transcend the typical spy movie. The characters in the movie also grew up watching James Bond movies and felt destined to grow into their roles. Samuel L. Jackson plays the colorful megalomaniac Valentine who pulls out another memorable performance that is clearly a combination of Steve Jobs and Russell Simmons. Valentine has a plan utilizing modern technology that is far-fetched, but speaks to the world’s dependency on cell phones and the internet. He also gets a menacing theme that plays whenever he lurks, that cues the viewer that danger lies beneath the cartoon exterior and strong lisp of Valentine.
It isn’t a Bond movie without a villain with a unique skill-set and Vaughn delivers in spades. Relative newcomer Sofia Boutella plays the appropriately named Gazelle. The double amputee has her legs replaced with razor sharp blades. Every time Boutella springs into action, it is hard to not smile due to the exuberance of all of her action pieces. She feels like a living weapon that is hard to take your eyes off of. The bar has been raised for menacing henchmen and it will be interesting to see what Boutella shows up in next.
Much like Kick-Ass, Vaughn ends the movie with an over the top sequence that almost compromises the film by falling dangerously close to the world of camp. Clearly he didn’t want to end the movie in a complete bloodbath, however the hyper-stylized climax does slightly undermine some of the stakes that were set. It doesn’t threaten the film entirely, but does bear worth noting as it is a reoccurring trait of Vaughn’s movies.
Many questioned why director Vaughn left X-Men: Days of Future Past after crafting a majority of the story. He said he wanted to take the opportunity to make a spy movie for the current generation and that is exactly what he did. Kingsman: The Secret Service, is an unrelenting and extremely confident movie that delivers humor, heart, and action. If you are looking for pure entertainment and exhilaration, this is your best bet. Kingsman is an amazing movie.