Kingsman: The Secret Service is the latest comic book turned movie from the creator/writer/director team of Mark Millar, Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn. Kingsman offers up their unique take on the spy genre in the same way that their previous team-up, Kick Ass, skewered the conventions of the super-hero genre. As such… it succeeds in being a campy, meta send-up of classic British spy movies and tropes.
Colin Firth plays Harry Hart (aka Galahad) a suave “kingsman” from an eponymous super secret spy organization, who is primarily tasked with recruiting and mentoring Taron Egerton who plays Gary Unwin (aka Eggsy for no apparent reason) a rough and tumble street kid who’s father met a tragic end under Hart’s command.
Harry believes that with the right training and attitude, even Eggsy can become a Saville Row gentleman/super spy if given the proper chance. Add Samuel L. Jackson as megalomanical villain Richmond Valentine and as the Brits say, “Bob’s your uncle!” and we’ve got ourselves a spy movie.
Kingsman boasts a pretty solid cast (including Michael Caine, Mark Strong and Mark Hamill in supporting roles) but Colin Firth really shines in his portrayal of Harry Hart. He embodies the stereotypical “stiff upper lip” and aristocratic aplomb that is needed to give some sense of gravitas to the film.
By contrast, Samuel L. Jackson plays mega-villian Richmond Valentine as a lispy scenery-chewing cross between Steve Jobs and Spike Lee. Much of the charm of Kingsman comes from seeing the two adversaries square off.. quoting meta references and doing their best to out-quip eachother. It’s a great dynamic, and without giving too much away, the build up leads to one of the penultimate action scenes of the movie can only be referred to as “Mr. Darcy kicks ass.”
If there is a weakness to Kingsman, it’s that once the in-jokes and cleverness run out, the narrative just quits and becomes an exercise in setting up scenes of choreographed, stylized ultra-violence. Once the novelty of the meta-humor wears out, the movie stops being… for lack of a better word, novel.
Part of the issue is that director Matthew Vaughn has covered this type of material so many times before in movies like Kick Ass (a stylistic send up of super hero movies), Stardust (a stylistic send up of fairy tale movies) and X-Men: First Class (a stylistic send up of previous X-Men movies) that this movie seems a bit like “been there, done that” That said, the level of enjoyment one gets out of Kingsman will probably be directly proportional to how much one likes the other films listed above. If you’re are a fan of Vaughn’s work, check out his directorial debut Layer Cake, if you haven’t already… it’s still his best!