Invoking classic espionage tales such as the likes of Dr. No and Goldfinger, Kingsman sparks a return to the fun and over the top narratives that modern spy thrillers lack. By riffing on the genre it borrows so much from, The Secret Service manages to imbue new life and energy in a space that has become a bit mundane.
As with many of Mark Millar’s stories, Kingsman likes to toy with genre expectations and spoof narrative tropes. Where Kick-Ass explored the real world possibilities of crime fighting, Kingsman hearkens back to classic James Bond films and turns the volume up to 11. With hyper-stylized action, insane villains with stoic yet deadly sidekicks and agents with a penchant for seduction, The Secret Service provides an irresistibly entertaining take on the world of espionage and intrigue. The performances and action are top notch, the humor remains on the safe side of crude and the plot is sound enough to keep you invested but silly enough to remind you how much fun you’re having watching these characters. Some older viewers may see it as a return to form, while younger audiences will experience what was so beloved during the golden age of Bond and UNCLE. What can’t be stressed enough, however, is the fact that you are bound to enjoy yourself.
After losing his father at a very young age, Eggsy (Taron Egerton) grows up into a street smart thug with a chip on his shoulder who is loyal to a fault. Blaming the death of his dad on pompous 'one-percenters' that carelessly send soldiers into battle for them, Eggsy is a bit of a troublemaker. When he finds himself facing jail time, he relies on an old token a friend of his father gave him. It is here where Eggsy’s evolution into a Kingsman begins and how his perception is ultimately changed. Henry Hart (Colin Firth) takes young Eggsy under his wing and explains to him the ins and outs of the Kingsman secret service, an independent spy organization tasked with stopping global threats in their track.
Named after knights of Arthurian legend, Eggsy, along with a number of other young recruits, must run through a number of tests to replace the fallen Lancelot. It’s a cool premise with a ton of franchise potential. The parallels between the medieval knights to the modern agents is an interesting one that lends itself perfectly to the inevitable recasting films must do if they have any form of longevity.
During the tests for the new Lancelot, Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson), a maniacal tech billionaire with a plan to save the Earth, emerges as a threat and it is up to the Kingsman to stop him. Colin Firth, who has long been a favorite to play 007, plays the enigmatic Hart to perfection. Doing most of his own stunt work and affecting the perfect gentlemanly mannerisms, he manages to out-Bond the likes of Daniel Craig and Pierce Brosnan on the regular. The way Matthew Vaughn and George Richmond (the brilliant cinematographer) shoot the action with such kinetic style makes every action sequence feel alive with excitement. You feel as if you’re a part of the fight and every hit has some real weight behind it. It results in some of the most inventive and exhilarating choreography in recent memory. The extended sequence in the church was brutally beautiful and expertly shot, a true standout.
A suave and sophisticated hero is only as good as his villain, and in Valentine we get all that you could ask for. Taking a page from his favorite films, Valentine is crazy in his actions but sound in his mind. His methods are harsh but the ideals make sense. He isn’t just out for world domination, he legitimately wants to help, and if billions of people have to die in the process, so be it. It also helps that Samuel L. Jackson gives his best performance in a long time. Choosing to talk with a lisp, he is always bringing a sense of levity to the proceedings but it never takes away from how dangerous the character is. It is a fantastic blend for a villain and makes for a great counterbalance to our heroes.
Working alongside Valentine is the signature sidekick, the gorgeous and deadly Gazelle (Sofia Boutella). With minimal lines and swords for feet, she is probably more badass than any classic Bond villain ever. Her final fight with Eggsy was just another exquisite example of how good the action is here.
Rounding out the cast are veterans like Michael Caine, Mark Strong and Mark Hamill. They all bring their usual quality work to the table and are a joy to watch. Egerton, the newbie in the cast, plays Eggsy quite well. Even in the beginning you can see his potential for growth and he does a convincing job of walking us through his transformation. When he finally embraces his identity as a Kingsman it is clear on his face that he’s having a blast. When you can stop in the middle of a world saving mission to schedule a bit of “adult entertainment” you know you’ve made it (I don’t think even Bond has pulled that off).
Kingsman: The Secret Service does rely on classic spy movie plotting, which may make it a bit predictable at times, but does toying around with the genre that more often than not you’re too caught up in the fun to notice. Elegant choreography, emotional character moments, a great sense of humor and plenty of room for more make Kingsman must watch material. The best of 2015 thus far and one that will prove hard to top.
Overall I give this film 9/10