Kingsman: The Secret Service

Review by Adam Woodward @AWLies

Directed by

Matthew Vaughn

Starring

Colin Firth Samuel L Jackson Taron Egerton

Anticipation.

Bond for the #Neknominate set.

Enjoyment.

Offensive, vulgar, totally bonkers and occasionally brilliant.

In Retrospect.

Matthew Vaughn is the anti-national treasure British cinema has been crying out for.

Matthew Vaughn grabs the traditional spy movie by its tailored shirt and gives it a good slap.

James Bond may have saved the world 23 times (and counting), but he never got to fuck a Swedish princess in the arse. If that opening line is too rich for your blood, you might want to steer clear of Kingsman: The Secret Service, Matthew Vaughn’s brash, ultra-violent spy caper pastiche.

Underpinned by the same rule-breaking bravado present in 2010’s Kick-Ass, Vaughn’s previous collaboration with comic book writer Mark Millar and screenwriter Jane Goldman, this is another confident, confounding work from a director who never ceases to surprise, whether he’s helming a star-crammed franchise add-on or a middle finger-flipping anti-prestige curio. It’s a deliriously entertaining, at times wildly misfiring controlled demolition job of a movie. Like watching someone who’s spent months carefully renovating a Grade II listed country estate suddenly reveal that the entire place is wired to a comically oversized ACME brand TNT plunger.

Like Millar’s 2012 comic book series, entitled ‘The Secret Service’, Vaughn’s film weaves together a conspiracy concerning the abduction of Mark Hamill, a despicable plot to achieve world domination and a fictional British secret service agency’s blooding of a new recruit. The name Kingsman refers to a covert institution of dapper double agents, who we’re introduced to in the form of Colin Firth’s Saville Row-suited gentleman assassin, Harry Hart, aka Galahad. Tasked with finding a suitable replacement for a long-serving agent whose death he feels partly responsible for, Galahad tracks down a council block yoof called Gary “Eggsy” Unwin (ace newcomer Taron Egerton), whom he has reason to believe is made of prime Kingsman stock.

He may not know how to tie a Windsor knot, and has virtually nothing in common with his fellow recruits – a bunch of toffee-nosed public school prats – but Eggsy’s street smarts are enough to see him through a punishing training programme at Kingsman HQ (almost) without a hitch. Vaughn has a lot of fun showing off his spy game expertise in these early boot camp scenes, affectionately paying homage to the genre while serving up several technically impressive set pieces, most notably an exhilarating underwater sequence in which Eggsy and the other rookies wake up to find their dormitory rapidly filling with water. The adrenaline only pumps harder from here.

Before long, Samuel L Jackson turns up as a lisping, tux-and-cap donning business mogul known simply as Valentine, whose latest piece of must-have wearable tech comes pre-fitted with the kind of sinister hidden functionality only a Silicon Valley entrepreneur/evil genius could dream up. Complete with inflated ego and an exotic (and lethal) female sidekick, Valentine is about as cartoonish and crass as super villains come, though he’s still not as preposterous as Javier Bardem’s Silva from Skyfall.

With the aid of Michael Caine and Mark Strong as Arthur and Merlin (essentially the Kingsman equivalents of M and Q), Galahad tracks Valentine down to, bizarrely enough, a Westboro-style church in America’s Deep South, where the bilious hate speech is drowned out under a hail of bullets and brimstone. It’s an expertly choreographed scene of eye-watering carnage (set to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s ‘Free Bird’, no less), one that relies on the audience’s negative preconceptions of certain extremist religious groups in order to justify the excessive bloodletting. Right or wrong, there’s an undeniable perverse pleasure to be had in watching Mr Darcy thrust the business end of his brolly into a hollering bigot’s windpipe.

One thing that makes Vaughn’s work so distinctive is his ability to tap into the minds of 16-year-old boys. He knows what they want – namely lots of action, fast cars and sex – and how to give it to them. Yet his strength as a director lies in the fact that he makes films for adults. The silly gadgets, lavish underground lairs and snappy one-liners dotted throughout Kingsman are pure Fleming, and there are other nods and winks to various espionage touchstones that will no doubt be lost on younger viewers. For all its satirical posturing regarding consumer culture and the ever shifting paradigm of our class system, however, this is a film that perhaps relies too much on its readiness to repackage familiar, old-fashioned motifs into a knowingly post-modern carnival of superficial thrills and tactless double entendre.

Vaughn belongs to that select group of contemporary filmmakers that possess mainstream sensibilities yet who seem to prize absolute creative freedom above landing a tidy paycheque. He’s had a few shots at directing comparatively safe studio-fronted blockbusters before, of course, most recently with X-Men: First Class, but it’s good to see he’s still willing to commit to riskier, more personal projects. Granted, Vaughn’s abrasive, hyper-kinetic style isn’t to everyone’s taste, but you could never accuse his films of being boring – not when a gratuitous impaling is deployed as casually as a joke about anal sex. And that’s more than you can say about a lot of Hollywood directors working today.

Kingsman also contains the single greatest line of dialogue delivered by Michael Caine since his profound and meme-spawning “Some men just want to watch the world burn” speech from The Dark Knight. Vaughn may not be a Joker-level sociopathic maniac, but he’s no passive bystander either. When the fuse is eventually lit and the world goes up in flames, you can bet he’ll be the one holding the match.

Published 28 Jan 2015

Tags: Colin Firth James Bond Taron Egerton

Anticipation.

Bond for the #Neknominate set.

Enjoyment.

Offensive, vulgar, totally bonkers and occasionally brilliant.

In Retrospect.

Matthew Vaughn is the anti-national treasure British cinema has been crying out for.

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