Matthew Vaughn is a director who consistently surprises me with every addition to his blossoming filmography. Slipping out from under Guy Ritchie’s shadow (they were a Producer / Director duo in the UK), with his feature film debut ‘Layer Cake’ (2004), he has since gone on to give us inventive and stylish flicks like ‘Stardust’ (2007), ‘Kick Ass’ (2010) and ‘X-Men: First Class’ (2011). Now he adds ‘Kingsman: The Secret Service’…and it’s pretty damn great! This is a fun, ridiculously violent spy movie that pays blatant homage to the classic Bond films, while also openly acknowledging that they exist, along with such espionage ‘staples’ like ‘Jason Bourne’ and ‘Jack Bauer’…notice the J.B. theme there? Yea…so did Vaughn (you’ll see what I mean). Anyway, while the flick nods pointedly in the direction of those cinematic spies, it also goes to lengths to turn some of the expected conventions of the genre on their heads.
The story, after establishing the Kingsmen spy agency as a highly skilled and well-financed force to be reckoned with, picks up with the introduction of ‘Eggsy’ (Taron Egerton), a wayward punk from ‘wrong side of the tracks’ London. It seems that his late father was a clandestine member of this mysterious organization and had fatally sacrificed himself during a dangerous mission in the Middle East in the late 1990s, saving his comrades-in-arms. One of the agents, ‘Harry Hart’ / ‘Galahad’ (Colin Firth) felt the need to extend a helping hand to the deceased man’s family and passed a ‘key’ to ‘Eggsy’, while he was still an infant. After running afoul of The Law, while running afoul of a local gang of hoods led by his mom’s abusive piece-of-shit boyfriend, ‘Eggsy’ decides to use the ‘key’ to get himself out of ‘hot water’. This puts him back in touch with ‘Harry’, who then introduces the awe-struck but still defiant lad to the inner workings and purpose of The Kingsmen agency. As ‘Eggsy’ embarks on his rigorous (and potentially fatal) training regime, overseen by ‘Merlin’ (Mark Strong) and ‘Arthur’ (Michael Caine), a new enemy emerges from the shadows. ‘Richmond Valentine’ (Samuel L. Jackson) is a Richard Branson-type technology tycoon (with a funny, Mike Tyson-like lisp), who has a nefarious plan for ‘fixing’ the world. This brings him and ‘Eggsy’ on a direct collision course with Destiny…and ultra-violence…and a Swedish princess’ ass. Seriously.
Yes, there is violence (and a shit-load of ‘F’-bombs) here and this crazy flick wears it’s solid ‘R’ rating with pride. There are several ‘jaw dropper’ scenes in which ridiculous numbers of people are shot, stabbed, impaled, immolated, punched/kicked, and blown to pieces, all well-set to pulse-pounding music and ‘frantic but competent’ editing and cinematography. Think of the ‘Hit Girl’ Mob Massacre scene from ‘Kick Ass’…and dial it up a few notches. There’s one sequence taking place in a horrible little church in Kentucky that is sure to go down as a classic for the sheer magnitude of violent insanity that ensues. More than once, I found myself muttering ‘Holy shit!’, while chuckling at the over-the-top ridiculousness of the onscreen carnage. Along with being amazed by the inventiveness and velocity of the brutality, there are also scenes that were simply exhilarating, particularly one featuring a group parachute drop…and possibly one chute too few. I noticed that I was all tensed up as the sequence played out, despite the near-cartoonish presentation…and that’s just what I want from an action-packed spy yarn that wants to let us know that it’s in on the joke too.
Something else that I ALWAYS appreciate is the attempt to give the movie-going public characters who interest and intrigue us, and I must say that here…they certainly succeed. It helps that the cast is spot-on, with Taron Egerton emerging as a promising young actor who is certainly going to be noticed by Hollywood after this one. Colin Firth was expectedly great as the ‘gentleman’s gentleman’ who can very effectively add a whole lot of pain and/or death to anyone’s day who may be dumb enough to fuck with him. The one I keep coming back to, however, is Samuel L. Jackson’s ‘Valentine’ character. He’s an eccentric weirdo with penchant for expensive ‘ghetto’ fashions who, despite employing a deadly double amputee appropriately named ‘Gazelle’ (Sofia Boutella…her leg prosthesis brandish extendable, razor-sharp blades), HATES the sight of blood (there’s a great scene where he has to deal with some of his own). He thinks McDonalds (BLATANT Product Placement!) is gourmet eating, and has talent with the dangerous double entendre-speak. What makes him scary is…his plan kindasorta makes sense, in a ‘Big Picture’ kind of way. I love it when screen writers are brave and clever enough to come up the a villain’s motivation, and have it be a concept that resonates with the viewer when pondered with anything resembing depth. THIS was the case here. It simply made Sammy J’s character all the more entertaing to watch. EVERYONE in this movie stepped up to plate, acting-wise, and seemed to be having a good time creating this messed-up spy tale.
There’s really not all that much for me to bitch about, aside from the baffling tendency of this highly organized and well-equipt organization to use REALLY shit quality Russian hand-guns (Tokarevs) as their primary ‘specialty’ sidearms. That was a little odd. I kept being momentarily distracted every time someone whipped one out, as I know just how friggin uncomfortable the grip on those things are (friend owns one). But then it would be used to quickly blow away any number of faceless ‘bad guys’, ‘John Wick’-style…and I’d get over it.
All in all, ‘Kingsman: The Secret Service’ was a good time at The Movies for this fella. My buddy, who I went with (after a night of boozy debauchery), got a kick out of it too. It’s an inventive, kinetic spy story with a shit-ton of gnarly action scenes and fun characters all around. This one could’ve been cool in 3D (not sure it’s even a viewing option), but the straight up 2D worked just fine for me. This movie amused, excited and entertained me, and if the genre works for YOU…will probably have the same effect. If you can’t catch it in the theatre (you should try), then definitely seek it out on digital release. It’s a fun time!
“I jutht can’t thtand the thight of blood.”
– ‘Richmond Valentine’
“I’m a Catholic whore, currently enjoying congress out of wedlock with my black Jewish boyfriend who works at a military abortion clinic. Hail Satan, and have a lovely afternoon, madam.”
– ‘Harry Hart’