“If you’re prepared to learn and advance, you can transform.”
The gallant secret agent Harry Hart (Colin Firth) offers this advice early on in Kingsman: The Secret Service, during a conversation with Gary “Eggsy” Unwin (Taron Egerton), a London street-tough in desperate need of some new circumstances. Eggsy comes from a household with an abusive step-father, an unlucky mother, and an even less fortunate infant sister. He’s the de facto man of the house, even if he spends his time causing problems in bars, stealing cars, and spending nights in the slammer.
But now, Eggsy has an opportunity. For the first time in his entire life, someone has taken a true, invested interest in him. What Eggsy doesn’t realize, at least not at first, is the vast scope of the world he’s being invited to participate in: an underground network of spies and secret agents known as the Kingsmen. The top-secret organization consists of a murderer’s row of James Bond analogues, each of them named after a knight of Arthurian legend. Eggsy’s been selected as possible candidate to replace Lancelot, recently killed in action. But volunteering to become a Kingsman is one thing; actually being a Kingsman is another.
Directed by Matthew Vaughn, written by Vaughn and Jane Goldman, and based on a comic book written by Mark Millar, Kingsman is a Kick-Ass reunion, lending a distinctly vulgar vibe to a film that otherwise presents itself as a spy genre classic. Its cast consists of Oscar winners like Firth and Michael Caine, an aesthetic and tone that all but screams 007, and a convoluted villain plot that would make Doctor Evil blush.
Don’t be fooled, however: Kingsman looks like a James Bond movie, but “this ain’t that kind of movie,” as noted several times throughout the two-hour run-time. You wouldn’t see Daniel Craig murdering an entire church filled with racist hillbillies in a Bond movie, for one thing, or breaking bread with the bad guy over a simple meal of Big Macs and fries. But that’s Kingsman. It’s a classic spy movie when it wants to be, and when it doesn’t, it’s got an energy that’s uniquely Vaughn-Goldman-Millar; a proven triumvirate of frenetic fun.
Just as Kick-Ass kicked things up a notch by bringing Nicolas Cage in as a Batman type, Kingsman achieves a casting coup of its own with The King’s Speech Oscar winner Firth as Harry, the Galahad of the Kingsmen. He’s the perfect British gentleman, complete with keen fashion sense and an appreciation of the finer things in life, like a good pint of Guinness. But Firth breaks far away from anything he’s ever done here, participating in some of the most creatively staged and imagined action sequences this side of Big Daddy’s warehouse raid, spouting out vulgarities when the occasion calls for it. It’s an unexpected and awesome new side of the 54-year-old actor, who finally gets to embrace his inner-Bond.
If Firth’s Harry is the Big Daddy of Kingsman, then relative newcomer Egerton is the Hit-Girl. No, he’s not a girl, and he’s not wearing a purple wig, but he’s a closer cousin to Mindy Macready than Dave Lizewski every day of the week. He comes from out of nowhere and excels under the tutelage of someone much wiser and more experienced in the art of killing-all-the-bad-guys-with-umbrella-guns. It’s a great breakout performance for Egerton, who more than holds his own in scenes opposite Firth. Their father-son dynamic is at the heart of the film, as Eggsy seeks to fill the void left by his long-dead father, and Harry tries to atone for his part in Eggsy’s father’s death.
Kingsman kicks ass, and a whole lot of it.
No true Bond film is complete without a great villain, and Samuel L. Jackson fills out that role for Kingsman. He plays Richmond Valentine, a technological innovator and Hollywood media mogul by day, and an evil environmentalist by night. Think Steve Jobs meets Spike Lee meets Ernest Blofeld, with an added lisp as a twist. He’s got big plans for how to stop the world’s global warming and population problems, and it’s at the expense of… well, the population. Jackson’s having a blast with the character, and there’s a lot to play with, what with his extreme aversion to violence (“Blood makes me puke,” he tells one would-be victim), and that ridiculous lisp, which turns all of the booming bravado you expect from Jackson a whole lot sillier.
The supporting cast is killer, too, with Mark Strong breaking away from his typical bad-guy mold as the Merlin of the Kingsmen — more or less 007’s Q. Michael Caine is perfectly Michael Caine as Arthur, the M of the agency. On the villain side of the aisle, Sofia Boutella plays Gazelle, Valentine’s henchwoman who cuts down everyone in her path with the aid of two very lethal artificial limbs.
With a strong cast in place and a tried-and-true threesome of creatives behind the camera, Kingsman kicks ass, and a whole lot of it; nothing more, nothing less. Mr. Bond might take issue with some details, but then again, this ain’t that kind of movie.