Matthew Vaughn’s ‘KINGSMEN’ is bloody brilliant in the kick arse department
If you’re looking for a simple-minded romantic comedy this is not the film you’re looking for. If you want director Matthew Vaughn’s trademark mix of humor, action and high production value, sit down and be a happy camper. “Kingsmen: The Secret Service” is a definitely British movie, unlike his earlier “Kick Ass,” which was geared to the American audience without question.
“Kingsmen” concerns a secret spy organization, not part of any government, but based in the U.K., and largely staffed by children of upper class, with code names like “Lancelot.” Their mission is to thwart bad guys, terrorist plots, with a huge budget and without government oversight or corruption. The organization is headed by one-time leading man and spy movie stalwart, Michael Caine. And the main operative is played by Colin Firth, who becomes an unexpected action movie star here, and about as far from his “romcom” roots as one can get here, and perfectly cast as the “gentleman spy.”
I wasn’t aware that this film is based on a comic book “The Secret Service” (I haven’t read comic books for many, many years now) by writer Mark Millar and artist Dave Gibbons. For those who like name dropping in the comic book world, Millar also wrote “Kick Ass,” and Gibbons was the artist for “Watchmen.” The screenplay for the movie version is by Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman, who also worked on other Vaughn films “Kick Ass,” “X-Men: First Class,” and “Stardust.”
Back to the film: The main entry to the group’s in-town HQ is a posh bespoke suit tailor shop on Seville Row, called “Kingsmen,” which can outfit an operative not only in form fitting style, but tricky secret agent spy kit from poison pens, to exploding cigarette lighters. They also have a large manse in the countryside (which looks suspiciously like the same estate as in “X-Men: First Class,” another great Vaughn film, but I didn’t bother to research that; it’s big!).
Firth’s character, Harry Hart (code name “Galahad”) recruits the son of one of his former recruits who died during training. The son Gary “Eggsy” Unwin, played by Taron Egerton (largely unknown outside U.K., and primarily known for TV roles), joins a number of other recruits to see if he will qualify to become a new member of the Kingsmen. “Eggsy” is from the estate, which is something like the “projects” in the U.S., basically the underclass side of town, and the sort of folk sometimes without options other than taking to crime.
The training progresses and Eggsy ends up as one of two final recruits, only one of which will be selected to join. There is the usual bullying from the upper crust kids, a different kind of bullying from his mates and extended family members in the estates. He fails the final test, but he ends up being drawn into the group regardless when the villain’s plans are revealed and his mentor is taken out.
The training of the recruit, and the fish out of water elements, reminded me a little bit of another film I liked, “Wanted” (2008) – which, in looking this up on IMDB, I learned that Mark Millar was also the writer of the comic book on which that film was based.
In this affair, the bad guy is a tech billionaire, Valentine, played by Samuel L. Jackson, who has fun playing a kooky lisping violence-adverse madmen who wants to save and heal the planet by killing a portion of the population; having given up on throwing money at carbon reduction and weak willed politicians and their cadre of vocal climate change deniers. In this endeavor he enlists the help of many world leaders, both real and fictional in this tale, and those on board will be protected from the “culling.”
Mark Hamill plays Professor Arnold, who is initially kidnapped by Valentine, but meets a sticky end when Harry Hart is initially brought in to track him down as part of a search for a growing number of “disappearing” celebrities and notaries.
Jackson is fun as “Valentine,” and while he continues to look more and more frail as time goes on, as compared to his “Pulp Fiction” days, this is one of his better villainous roles. Certainly much better than the disappointing remake of “Robocop,” but a far cry from his brilliant Mr. Glass in M. Night Shyamalan’s “Unbreakable.” But, of course, the actor doesn’t create the character entirely. (Jackson lost 40 lbs. by going vegan, but this definitely lends him less weight when playing the “heavy” – pun intended.)
Sophia Boutella is great as Valentine’s sidekick, Gazelle, with the unique missing feet replaced with stainless steel blades. She is far more deadly than Bond baddie “Oddjob” with her “blade runner” feet able to cut through bone. Boutella is also part of the third “Star Trek” cast.
Okay. The violence. This film is rated R and rightly so. If you are overly squeamish, then you won’t like this movie. If you thought the final fight scenes in “Kick Ass” were jaw dropping, this notches that up a level, especially in one particular scene. The church. Holy crap!
Even I (who was raised on films like “The Wild Bunch” as a kid) went “okay is this too much?” until I remembered about 20 bodies into the carnage that these were crackpot racist loons, and at some level, well, I won’t editorialize on who deserves to live or die – it’s just a movie, right? Firth is amazing in this scene, and it’s clear he got in shape for the film; he plays the Gentleman Spy with more moves than Bond ever had outside the bedroom.
Of course there is a doomsday countdown, and the young apprentice “Eggsy” and the other new Kingsmen recruit (played by Samantha Womack) and their teacher (played by Mark Strong) have to attack the giant bad guy stronghold, and this has a bit of a nod to “The Silencers” (1969) to it if you remember those movies, as much as a nod to Bond. Great stuff, and I won’t throw in any further spoilers here. Eggsy grows into the agent that Harry had hoped he might be, and gets to utilize the many skills he learned in agent training. While not as violent as the church scene, let’s just say the bad guys don’t get to have breakfast the next morning.
I like the fact that in this film, doomsday actually starts and we see some of the results of that, unlike most contrived and over re-heated plots where the countdown clock is stopped one second from the denouement.
If you liked the aforementioned “Kick Ass,” or any of Vaughn’s other U.K.-trope films (“LayerCake,” or “Snatch”), or “Wanted,” then you will very likely enjoy this as well. I know I did. Looking forward to a second watch.
The digital and disc releases include some nice behind the scenes material, much like the “Kick Ass” release. For the digital release, sound, picture, all look great. I loved the opening credits with the clever bit of how the debris turned into the lettering, which is just one of the many unexpectedly creative elements in this film, which could have been camp and hokey, but succeeds on many levels due to the cast and crew.
Kingsman: The Secret Service | Official Trailer 3 [HD] (YouTube):
Official movie website:
Mr. Porter “Kingsmen Clothing” shopping site:
“The Secret Service” page for comic book on Marvel.com:
Excellent interview with Mark Millar in “The Guardian”: