Following the death of Kingsman agent, Lancelot (Jack Davenport), fellow agent Harry Hart (Colin Firth) seeks out a replacement. Although a number of young Kingsmen potentials are recruited for training, Hart has his eye on unemployed troublemaker Gary “Eggsy” Unwin (Taron Egerton), whose father used to work alongside Harry.
Meanwhile, the Kingsmen are investigating the activities of technology tycoon Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson), a seemingly benevolent philanthropist who’s actually behind a twisted plan that will bring about worldwide chaos.
Combining a lisping megalomaniac tree hugger bent on wiping out the population, his femme fatale muscle who’s got steel spears for legs, a lunatic cult in Kentucky and Colin Firth, of all people, as an ass-kicking senior agent, Kingsman: The Secret Service is one of the craziest movies I’ve seen this year.
Keep in mind also that I’ve already seen Jupiter Ascending, Seventh Son, The Boy Next Door and that one S&M movie.
Co-writer/director Matthew Vaughn knows irreverently humored, unabashedly violent action like the back of his hand, and his style of filmmaking makes him the perfect fit for Kingsman, returning once again to Mark Millar territory after first adapting Millar’s Kick-Ass back in 2010 (Jane Goldman, who co-authored Kick-Ass’s script, also returns as Vaughn’s writing partner). Much like what they did with Kick-Ass which poked some fun at the superhero genre and its fanbase, Kingsman takes on the spy genre and Bond films. While not a full-on lampooning like what Austin Powers did, the send-ups are evident, beginning with Colin Firth’s suave and sophisticated senior agent, Samuel L. Jackson’s wealthy villain who’s drummed up an extremely over-the-top nefarious plan, and ending with a funny jab at Bond’s trademark sexual conquests.
The film doesn’t exactly come out of the gates swinging, but once Vaughn gets things going, he doesn’t let his foot off the gas. His style, a meshing of all things graceful and chaotic, fits this film like a glove. The fight sequences contain the frenetic, fast-paced energy that’s expected in action films, but Vaughn, his team of editors (Eddie Hamilton, Jon Harris and Conrad Buff IV) and cinematographer George Richmond wisely avoid the shaky-cam schtick and give them focus and cohesion, relying on beautifully executed fight choreography, stunt work and brilliant shot selection to generate excitement.
In an inspired bit of casting, Colin Firth is absolutely fantastic here as the lead agent who may be the most mannered man on the face of the Earth, but God forbid you ever get on his bad side. Firth has mostly garnered praise for his dramatic roles such as Girl With a Pearl Earring, Tinker Tailor Solider Spy, A Single Man and his Oscar-winning turn in The King’s Speech, so it’s understandable if people don’t have him pegged as their first choice for this role. He delivers and then some here, though, getting to play the badass secret agent while also being able to showcase his disciplined gravitas, such as a scene in where he talks to Eggsy about his deceased pet dog.
Consider your wasted performance in Before I Go to Sleep forgiven, Colin.
The other acting veterans come to play as well. Taking a small break from playing Marvel’s Nick Fury, Samuel L. Jackson has some fun and plays it up big time as the diabolical villain with a twist in that he can’t stand the sight of blood or violence. Mark Strong (who previously worked with Vaughn as the villain in Kick-Ass) gives a fine low-key supporting turn, playing a good guy for once. And Michael Caine is always a welcome sight onscreen, even though one aspect concerning his character felt rushed and could’ve been explained better.
Newcomer Taron Egerton is quite good here as the obligatory boy with potential who’s held back by the large chip he carries on his shoulder. Most impressive is that he holds his own very well against four acting heavies, two of which are Oscar winners. Algerian dancer Sofia Boutella is mesmerizing as the Kingsman’s version of Bond’s Jaws and Oddjob. Boutella owns every fight she’s in, floating through the air like a ballerina, while wielding her deadly slicer legs like a hibachi chef gone mad.
Able to act as a send-up of the James Bond films while also maintaining its own identity, Kingsman: The Secret Service is a thoroughly entertaining and well-acted action flick that’s locked and loaded with style, energy and humor. Not only does it solidify Matthew Vaughn’s place as one of the most stylish action filmmakers of today, it also shows that even veteran dramatic actor Colin Firth can kick ass with the best of them as the most proper and polite badass you’ll see onscreen this year.
I give Kingsman: The Secret Service an A- (★★★½).