Kingsman: The Secret Service plays like a James Bond movie that never happened. The Kingsmen is a spy agency that defends the interests of Great Britain around the globe. This movie isn’t trying to break ground in the spy genre. Instead, director and screenwriter Matthew Vaughn flaunts the conventions of years past. Unlike the current iteration of the Bond franchise, Kingsman openly mocks the dreary, serious spy films like the Bourne movies. Instead, Vaughn calls back to the lighter and, dare I say, cheesier Bond films of the Rodger Moore era. Kingsman celebrates the 60s and 70s, when pasty British gentleman went around the world, stopped the vile plots of eccentric millionaires, and miraculously never caught gonorrhea. Through this lens, Kingsman can be summed up in a scene where regal Colin Firth says “Manners maketh the man” before thrashing multiple goons with a umbrella.
Kingsman, unlike the Bond films, is a fish-out-of-water story. Needing to find a new Kingsmen, Galahad (Colin Firth) turns to the hoodlum Eggsy, played by the newcomer Taron Egerton. Despite Eggsy’s low class status, his father was a former Kingsman killed in the line of duty. Despite being mocked by other Kingsmen for not choosing somebody from the upper-class, Galahad believes that despite his un-gentlemanly background, Eggsy has what it takes to join the ranks of the uber-British Kingsman and stop the plans of Dot Com Billionaire Richard Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson).
In Vaughn’s impressive film canon, Kingsman is very similar to another of his comic book adaptations, Kick-Ass. Both are incredibly violent films that serve to deconstruct their respective genres and whose protagonists are lower class white males thrust into a stylized world that clashes with the realism of current life. But Kingsman is also an across-the-board improvement on everything Vaughn did in Kick-Ass. Don’t get me wrong, Kick-Ass was an interesting, sometimes great, movie, but Kingsman is already the front runner for best action movie of the year. The fights are hyper-stylized and fun, all leading up to a fight scene in a church that is best left unexplained, but will go down as one of the most innovative and exciting action scenes of the past couple of years. The cast also doesn’t disappoint. Colin Firth is fantastic as the agent Galahad. He quickly casts away any doubt about his ability to act in action scenes. Firth alone is a great reason to see this movie. Taron Egerton also does well as the protagonist in this film. The rest of the supporting cast, (Michael Caine, Mark Strong, Sofia Boutella, Samuel L. Jackson) is great with Jackson excelling as a Tech billionaire with a lisp.
On a final note, Kingsman does walk a very fine line from being a fun, dirty deconstruction of the spy genre, to becoming the very thing it homages back to. Kingsman mostly avoids failing this trap until the very end up of the movie, where a joke goes a bit too far and stumbles into crudeness. I understand the authorial intent in those final moments, but the joke doesn’t land as it should.
Kingsman: The Secret Service is a crass, ultra-violent affair that isn’t for the more modest among us. But anybody interested in action or spy genres who wants to see a cavalcade of exploding-head fireworks should love this movie.