No matter how hard Matthew Vaughn’s new movie Kingsman: The Secret Service tries to lampoon James Bond, British high-culture and martinis it never strays far from Austin Powers. In fact the final third of the film takes place in a Dr. Evil underground lair that I’m 90% sure was lifted directly from the old Mike Meyers-sets. This isn’t close to a bad thing. In fact if Vaughan had embraced the ridiculous nature of this material fully he could have had a real classic on his hands. Instead we’re left with a mish-mash of spy movies past complete with the hipster irony we desperately crave in the modern comic book landscape. It’s also super bad ass, funny and riotously gory.
Kingsman is your standard rags-to-riches tale of young punk makes good. Eggsy (Taron Egerton) is a down-on-his-luck kid from the projects on the outskirts of London. Since losing his father as a wee-lad his mother has turned to big, drunk wankers to ease her pain and his prospects are looking anywhere but up. But young-Eggsy is in luck. As a youngster he was given a medallion from a man who delivered the news of his father’s passing. Said medallion becomes awfully useful when Eggsy is backed into a corner by his mothers boyfriend’s goons.
Enter Harry Hart aka Galahad aka Colin Firth aka James Bond aka Jason Bourne aka International Man of Mystery. Mr. Hart always had a hunch that Eggsy – the son of a fallen Kingsman – could one day blossom into the spy the world needed. So, after the films first (of many) virtuoso fight scenes Eggsy is whisked away to begin his training with 5 other recruits at the Kingsman’s underground/above ground gigantic mansion/bat cave. Thus begins the large majority of the film as we witness Eggsy’s transformation from slumming thug to proper gentleman spy. It’s an Ender’s Game – battle school sequence that sends the new recruits through a series of very fun stunts that weeds out the weak from the snarky and strong.
This is a spy movie of course and every great spy movie is only as good as its villain. Lucky for the Kingsman they have a decidedly 21st-century villain named Samuel L. Jackson. His character probably has a name but you wouldn’t know if because I’m pretty sure Jackson just wore his normal clothes and read his lines as quickly as possible. He does give his character an incomprehensible lisp so I guess he sort of went for it.
Jackson’s plot is fairly ingenious. In his view the population problem is going to crush Earth. His plan to stop it – give away free SIM cards to the entire population. The catch – the SIM cards will release a tone simultaneously turning the world’s citizens into homicidal maniacs. The murderous rage will wipe out everyone (except the world’s most affluent.)
Obviously this is all familiar to anyone who has watched even 20-minutes of a Bond film. Vaughn knows this and plays with expectations effectively. At every potential turning point Vaughn attempts at least to subvert the cliché (or at times completely wipe it out.) Don’t expect sharks with freakin’ lasers on their heads here because bro – it ain’t that kinda film. It is tough not to see screenwriters Jane Goldman and Vaughn literally rolling their eyes at the prospects of creating ANOTHER spy/comic book film and that tone works well for the most part. Save for one of the most egregious moments of product placement I’ve ever seen that tone elevates the film well above other farces of recent memory (*cough* The Interview *cough.*)
Vaughn is a good Director that becomes a potentially transcendent Director when given a solid action set-piece and boy does he have them in spades here. His camera work and editing style is so fluid and sure-handed that it injects these scenes with vigor missing from 98% of the Marvel cannon. The choreography is marvelous and the gore is over-the-top. When Galahad eliminates an entire Kentucky church of hate-filled dunces my audience cheered.
Kingsman works because Vaughn is dedicated to the material. His reverence for Bond and his subversion of the genre work in tandem to give the movie its edge. I truly hope Vaughn can work with stronger material in the future because the verve in which he approaches the silliness of the Kingsman is often times spectacular.