“Do you like spy movies?”
“Of course. The new ones are a little too serious for my tastes though. I like the old ones better. Give me a far-fetch theatrical plot!”
You know what? I couldn’t agree more. I love super spy adventures, particularly James Bond films, a genre Kingsman: The Secret Service fits comfortably in. Thus far, I have also been extremely fond of the output of its director, Matthew Vaughn. I have not been as fond of the works of Mark Millar, who wrote the comic book Kingsman is based on, but that doesn’t really matter. While other filmmakers may falter when adapting Millar (or faceplant, like Jeff Wadlow did with Kick-Ass 2), Vaughn and his equally important collaborator, screenwriter Jane Goldman, know what they are doing. They know what to keep and what to chuck out, which is the only way to approach a Millar adaptation.
Say what you will about Millar’s books, but he’s a pretty good idea man. His loglines are often intriguing, and Kingsman is no different in that regard. A street punk gets to become an international super spy and save the world? Sounds like fun to me, but it positively sings in the hands of Vaughn and Goldman.
Kingsman: The Secret Service sees hero extraordinaire Harry Hart (Colin Firth) pushing lost youngin’ Gary “Eggsy” Unwin (Taron Egerton) to become an agent of the titular secretive group. The organization uses Arthurian codenames for their members. Hart is “Galahad.” Jack Davenport is “Lancelot.” Michael Caine portrays head honcho “Arthur.” And the always-welcome Mark Strong is trainer/tech master “Merlin.” When one of the agency’s best men is taken out, they are in need of a replacement. Each existing agent chooses a candidate. Eggsy is Harry’s offbeat choice. We get the usual, “no one believes in you, but I do” stuff, but it’s all well done and playful. Kingsman deals in a lot of tropes and clichés of the genre, but the devil is in the details. “Manners maketh man,” as Harry would say. Well, execution maketh a great movie and Vaughn has succeeded in doing so.
I could go on and on about how exciting and fun the action is, spoiling sequence after sequence to convince you that this is worth your time. I could also point out that the comedy within is also deftly executed. That said, I have a feeling that most of you already know whether or not Kingsman is for you. This is an extremely funny film, and it never feels ashamed to poke fun at both itself and the genre as a whole.
It gleefully wallows in its more ridiculous elements at every turn. How could it not, when lispy, super-intelligent, billionaire baddie Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson) comes off like a weak-stomached, deranged nerd gone mad with his resources and power? Or Davenport’s Lancelot posing and grinning like a fucking idiot at every opportune moment? Or Mark Hamill’s supporting role as a sketchy British professor, sporting an accent that plays like a cross between Lindsay Anderson and Oliver Reed? Or my new all-time favorite product placement scene? Or the ridiculously fun opening credits and the fireworks extravaganza that is the finale?
Make no mistake; this isn’t an Austin Powers-style spoof. While it laughs at all of the cliché spy movie elements, it does so lovingly and while also reveling in them. It’s one thing to poke fun at the standard hero/villain tropes, but something else entirely to do it while playing out those very trope and have it function both as a comedy AND a spy adventure. Most films can manage one or the other. Few execute both with such a sure and steady hand.
I hesitate to call it Vaughn’s best film to date, simply because I still love Layer Cake very much. As time goes on, however, it has become clear that Layer Cake is an entirely different beast than the films that he has crafted sinse. So, discounting his directorial debut, Kingsman is the clear winner for me, blowing past Kick-Ass and X-Men: First Class, and even surpassing Stardust. Many have mused what a Vaughn Bond film might be like, and just as many have fan-hired him as director each time another has been announced. I myself have done this in the past, but I’m glad that it never came to pass. Just as I am glad that he ultimately only produced last year’s X-Men: Days of Future Past.
This was a film that Vaughn was meant, nay, DESTINED to make. My thoughts over the drive home from the cinema only cemented this. I realized that I no longer want a Matthew Vaughn Bond film or a Matthew Vaughn Star Wars film. I don’t want him playing in the big sandboxes of others anymore. Instead, I want him to build his own, no matter if the parts he uses are existing or original. I want more films like Layer Cake, Stardust and Kingsman. And I sure as hell want Starlight, another Millar adaptation that Vaughn has over at Fox and is supposedly being fast-tracked as we speak. The man can crank out as many Mark Millar adaptations as he wishes, if they keep turning out this well. I’ll sign up without hesitation for any journey that Matthew wants to take me on at this point.
Kingsman: The Secret Service was everything I wanted it to be and much, much more. I went in expecting the “ultraviolent Roger Moore Bond-style spy flick” that many others had promised me it was. It’s certainly an apt description, particularly the ultraviolent part. (James Bond Jr. this is not.) If it had only been super violent John Steed adventure, I’d have been extremely happy. Instead, I walked out madly in love with a film destined to be a cult classic (or outright one, if we’re lucky) and sure to be in regular rotation at my home for decades to come.