EXPECTATIONS: An energetic family friendly spy film that thrills and stirs similar to Kick-Ass and X-Men: First Class.
REVIEW: Matthew Vaughn has always been a director who’s work I really admired. All variable yet well-made fun pieces of work from Layer Cake (Daniel Craig’s calling card for James Bond), Stardust (aka The Princess Bride 2.0), Kick-Ass (which gave us something I never thought we needed, Nicolas Cage imitating Adam West) and of course, X-Men: First Class (which re-energized the franchise after the other X-Men films that shall not be named). But now, he gives us another thrill ride, and that is Kingsman: The Secret Service, based on the graphic novel by Mark Millar (who also created Kick-Ass). Seeing his love of spy films in Layer Cake, it is apparent that Vaughn is happily unhinged, and fortunately has learned from his mistakes, which were awkward handling of tone (Kick-Ass), lack of balance between cartoonish violence and human drama; and pacing (Stardust).
Gary “Eggsy” Unwin (Taron Egerton) is a young, rebellious teenager whose aimless life could lead him behind bars, due to the heavy circumstances in his life, not to mention the facts that his father died when he was young, his care and responsibility for his younger half-sister and his mother is going out with an abusive drunk. Fortunately, a secret agent Harry Hart (Colin Firth) sees endless potential and recruits him to become a trainee in Kingsman, a secret service organization. Meanwhile, a super-villain, Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson) unleashes a plan to kill off the vast majority of Earth to solve the problem of climate change. It may not sound much, since I’m not providing spoilers but this sure as hell ain’t a Daniel Craig Bond film, you can count on it.
When I first heard that Matthew Vaughn passed on directing X-Men: Days of Future Past for this, I was very skeptical, assuming that this would be a family friendly film. And seeing the first trailer didn’t sway my expectations. But my expectations were knocked out. This film is as R-rated as it gets. Even more provocative than Kick-Ass. Yet Vaughn has grown more experienced over the years and he finally gets the consistency right. Unlike Kick-Ass, we can revel in the comical violence of Kingsman but we can get swept up by the drama of the stakes without jarring us out of the movie. Also unlike Kick-Ass, Vaughn also gets the balance between parody and homage right, without becoming a film that it is legitimately spoofing.
The cast consisting of newcomers and veterans certainly add to the proceedings. Colin Firth finally gets a role of a secret agent every Pride and Prejudice fan was secretly yearning for and he nails it, showing seniority and charm, while lending a surprising physicality into the stunts and fight scenes. The church scene that he leads is fantastically well-done, with unbelievably gory results all done in a seemingly single take. Whereas Samuel L Jackson was a hoot as Richmond Valentine, with a delightful lisp and cowardice towards violence, adding a twist to his iconic attitude as well as the Bond villain archetype. As for the newcomers, Taron Egerton plays both sides of rambunctious teenager to charismatic secret agent better than I could’ve imagined, and it never feels forced. Sophie Cookson provides a nice compliment to Egerton as Roxy, Sofia Boutella steals the show with her athleticism as Valentine’s bodyguard, Gazelle while supporting veterans Mark Hamill and Michael Caine add (first?) class.
As for the action scenes, they are well-shot and well-conceived (the church scene mentioned above is a highlight), but they sometimes suffer from a digital sheen that is quite distracting, particularly in the final fight between Eggsy and Gazelle. But what gives the action scenes their oomph is the use of music. Much like Kick-Ass, Vaughn uses music to spectacular effect, with a great musical score by Henry Jackman (who also scored Kick-Ass and X-Men: First Class) especially with the use of “Freebird” by Lynrd Skynyrd and “Give it Up” by KC and the Sunshine Band. They give the film a great sense of fun and an amusing off-kilter edge that makes the delicate balance between parody and homage stand out.
All in all, apart from some quibbles, mainly with the CGI and pacing, Kingsman: The Secret Service is sure to be a favourite for some this year. I declare this to be a dope-ass movie. Manners maketh movie.
The cast of newcomers and veterans add heart and fun to the film
The action scenes are well-done and thrilling
Director Matthew Vaughn has learned from most of his mistakes
Delicate balance between parody and homage has been achieved
The pacing can be a little inconsistent (particularly when entering into the third act and the scenes introducing Princess Tilde)
CGI effects are noticeably dodgy
SCORE: 9/10 (Director Matthew Vaughn gives the spy genre a real shot of adrenaline, creating a roller-coaster of an action film that is sure to thrill.)
Cast: Colin Firth, Samuel L. Jackson, Mark Strong, Michael Caine, Mark Hamill, Taron Egerton, Sophie Cookson, Jack Davenport, Sofia Boutella, Geoff Bell, Samantha Womack, Bjorn Floberg, Hanna Alstrom
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Screenwriters: Jane Goldman, Matthew Vaughn