Following his 2010 deconstruction of the superhero genre, Kick-Ass, Matthew Vaughn directs this analysis of James Bond-style spy films. Kingsman: The Secret Service is based off of a comic book, similar to Kick-Ass, and both books share Mark Millar as a co-writer. The story of this film involves an exclusive group of spies who call themselves ‘Kingsman’. When one of the ‘Kingsman’ is killed while on-duty, Harry Hart (Colin Firth) recruits a promising street kid nicknamed Eggsy (Taron Egerton) to participate in a hyper-intense training program to fill the open spot. While this is going on, tech genius Richard Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson) harvests a plot to indirectly commit mass genocide.
The great thing about this movie is that it takes certain preconceptions about how a scene is supposed to go and it turns these expectations on their heads. A lot of the humor of the film is derived from the movie simply acknowledging certain clichés of the spy genre and choosing to avoid them. While these meta comments aren’t exactly subtle, the film is nonetheless self-aware. The jokes are often broad and occasionally too juvenile, but these flops are met with numerous successes coming from the movie’s tendency towards the unanticipated and the extreme.
About midway into the film, Hart comments to Valentine that he ‘always felt that the old Bond films were as good as their villain’. The movie seems to take this into account, as Samuel L. Jackson’s character is one of the most interesting characters in the film. Talking with a lisp and turning his charm level up to 11, Jackson chews up the scenery with the help of Sofia Boutella, who plays a paraplegic assassin/assistant named Gazelle. The training program sequences are entertaining, but they generally feel a bit like filler to delay the reveal of Valentine’s master plan. Colin Firth is charismatic as a master spy and mentor to Eggsy, and Taron Egerton shows a lot of promise holding the film together. The supporting cast, including Michael Caine, Jack Davenport, and Mark Hamill, adequately fill in the remaining intentionally simplistic roles.
Utilizing both descriptors in the term ‘action-comedy’, the action scenes in the film are all very well put together. One in particular, taking place in a church, is worth the price of admission on its own. Similar to the comedy presented, the violence in this film tends to the extreme. Unfortunately, the violence seems to be done without justification. That said, it’s always refreshing to see a movie that doesn’t censor itself in attempt to fit into a PG-13 rating.
The biggest problem that I have with this film is that it’s not really saying anything. It dissects the spy genre and comments on some of the common tropes, but it doesn’t really give anything more than a basic acknowledgment of the genre. Scream (1996) was a great movie if you were a fan of the slasher movies of the time, but as of present day it comes across as a little dated. Cabin in the Woods (2012) seriously analyzed a genre of horror while commenting on what made it great and what limited it. Even though the ‘cabin-in-the-woods’ horror cycle had passed by the time the film was released, Cabin in the Woods still felt relevant and worked whether or not you had any prior knowledge of the genre that the film was talking about. Kingsman is more akin to Scream than it is to Cabin in the Woods. With Kingsman, the minimal commentary provided is already so embedded in our culture that the film’s shelf life is probably pretty limited. That said, the movie is incredibly fun to watch from start to finish. If nothing else, the film is worth a serious viewing simply to marvel at the insanity that it presents. 7/10.