The spy genre has, let's face it, become a little stale. The emotionally unavailable and damaged rogue who eventually gets the girl and the bad guy (neither of whom ever re-appear)... it's a classic, but even classics need updating, a fresh take to keep them interesting.
Queen and Country? Serving the government is hardly a fantasy these days, and patriotic action fans are better served with war movies than secret agents. Rescuing the helpless girl and being rewarded with some hot lovin? Well, that may be a fantasy for some, but it's hardly retained the universal appeal it had fifty years ago.
Based on the comic book of the same name, Kingsman: The Secret Service centers on the Knights of the Kingsman, a group of super spies operating at the highest level of discretion (with some link to the round table, to boot). When one of their (very small) number is lost on a mission, each of the remaining members selects a candidate to take his place. Harry Hart (Colin Firth), bucks tradition and puts forward Eggsy, a dropout and young offender whose father was involved in Kingsmen himself.
The film then follows Eggsy's time training and being tested for the job, his difficulty fitting in with the upper class types who are with him, and his transformation from thuggish youth to gentleman spy. On it's own, that's almost enough of a story - it works for My Fair Lady, after all! But Kingsman doesn't stop there. While Eggsy is finding his way, Harry Hart and the rest of the Knights aren't just twiddling their thumbs and waiting for their newest member to be chosen. There is a world full of uber-criminals out there, after all, and they aren't on the edge of their seat wondering who will join the ranks. While Eggsy trains, Harry works, trying to unravel the latest plot for global takeover and save the world (again). As the movie progresses, these two stories start to overlap, finally culminating in one of the most impressive final sequences that I've seen in a very long time.
All of the characters are wonderfully drawn and developed, and are essential to making the film as engaging as it is. Eggsy is sympathetic, almost from the start - there is something about Taron Egerton's portrayal of him that ensures the audience isn't tempted to sneer at this chavvy kid from the estate. He's utterly charming long before he is taught to be. Colin Firth is one of the biggest surprises in the movie; best known for his bumbling romantic leads, he absolutely shines as an action hero. His suited gentleman is forseeably perfect, but he also manages to just exude cool; Eggsy isn't the only one with his jaw on the ground when First first busts out his badass side.
Samuel L Jackson and Michael Caine are the other big names in the cast, and neither disappoints. Caine continues his long-running streak as a stuffy authority type, the perfect stickler to Hart's understated rule-breaking. Jackson is a joy to watch as the villainous Valentine, bringing much needed humor and complexity to such a bold lowlife. The casting throughout is inspired, creating one of those rare movies where I can't think of a single actor I would have preferred to see.
Visually, Kingsman elevates the action to a whole new level, and one that I would love to see much more of. The fight scenes (which are plentiful!) are choreographed perfectly, but performed and viewed at such speed that there is no sense of rehearsal. This isn't limited to the one-on-one scenes, but extends to larger fights, and to some of the most incredible scenes of all - huge crowd-battles, with hundreds of participants involved. Even the soundtrack is carefully chosen to compliment the action, sometimes just providing an intense backdrop, and at other times coming to the forefront as an obvious (and thoroughly enjoyable) juxtaposition. It's perfect.
Of course, it's not all uber-fast action and shiny novelty. There is a clear homage to Bond throughout, from the fantastic (and somewhat old-school) gadgetry to the emphasis on mannerly behavior even when mid-mission. There's just enough of the best bits to lend the whole project the air of a classic spy movie and stir up some nostalgia, without feeling as if they are just recycling old material.
It's not 100% perfect (name me a film that is!), but the few elements that are less-than-ideal are also easily overlooked. The humor, while usually spot-on, can get a little overly crude in a couple of spots, and the action is so intense that it could be overwhelming. While there's a lot more gore than you may be used to seeing in a spy movie, and the film does earn it's R-rating, so audiences should be prepared for that. Personally, I felt that the blood was nicely offset by the unexpected sweetness of the movie, and I enjoyed the realism of the fight scenes that was heightened by not skimping on the blood.
The expectation for an R-rated action movie is usually that there will be plenty of excitement instead of emotion, but Kingsman pulls out all the stops on both counts. Edge-of-your-seat emotion is coupled with a truly uplifting (if not entirely original) message about humble origins and rising to a challenge. For added aw-factor, there are even puppies.
I was blown away by how impressed I was, and how this movie has kept me excited to re-watch it for the past few months. Cliche as it may sound, it really does have something to appeal to (almost) anyone, and I can only hope that it is successful enough to warrant a sequel, or even a franchise. I would love to revisit these characters and watch the development of the Knights of the Kingsman as they train new members and take on new foes.
Films like this that blend action and heart so perfectly are rare, and Kingsman should be recognized for doing it so perfectly.
Kingsman comes out in theaters Feb 13th, 2015.