Kingsman: The Secret Service July 15, 2015
It’s hard not to miss the early days of James Bond, when the adventures were colorful, 007 was spryly unserious, and the villains were ready to rupture with their European shaded, cackling madmen personas. Such wondrous cool exploded in the early Bond franchise that it isn’t unrealistic to watch Goldfinger over and over again. Cheekiness goes a long way.
But now we have the “modern” Bond (introduced in 2006’s Casino Royale), who is as sophisticated as ever but is hardly the Technicolor nympho he was in the pre-Brosnan days. He’s become a spy grizzled and cynical, more quick to grimace as he goes through the motions, a smirk completely unheard of.
I liked Casino Royale and its sequels (Quantum of Solace, Skyfall), but I miss the days when British spies weren’t always well-oiled machines of slickness. In the long run, agile, action-packed ridiculousness is much more satisfactory.
So while I suppose I wasn’t sitting around and waiting for a movie like Kingsman: The Secret Service to come around and sweep me off my feet, it’s nonetheless the kind of blockbuster needed to invigorate the incessant rut of superhero franchises/gritty action movies – and to humor fans of the 007 adventures of five decades ago.
Here is a movie so cartoonishly brash in its thrills I couldn’t help but reflect back on The Avengers and The Man from U.N.C.L.E.. Cheesy yet impressively tactical, both were 1960s spy shows fully aware they were telling comically insane stories — but, through a competent use of gaudy violence and disco ball flashy characters, silliness became sly while the tongues of everyone remained firmly in cheek.
Kingsman: The Secret Service is a parody of sorts, self-aware in its cocktail-infused kookiness but ready to pay homage when it comes time to harken back to the days when Roger Moore was kicking every bad guy’s ass as he held an unrealistically sexy woman at close quarters.
This film’s biggest issue is its violence — while oft comical, there are several gratuitous scenes of bloodshed that hardly match the snickering tone of everything else — but when Kingsman succeeds, it soars; it’s a puff of crisp air following the pollution of its staling super-suited counterparts.
Based on a series of comic books headed by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons, the film follows Eggsy Unwin (Taron Egerton), a juvenile delinquent living aimlessly with his mother and abusive stepfather. A recent Royal Marines dropout, his life is headed south, especially after he’s arrested for car theft. While locked up, though, Eggsy utilizes the brains he never seems to take advantage of by hastily calling the number on the back of the bravery medal left behind by his dad, who died while he was a child.
The number, it seems, doesn’t lead to some useless help hotline — it, instead, goes to Kingsman, a secret agency where Eggsy’s father worked before his untimely demise. A veteran of the division, Harry Hart (Colin Firth), quickly bails him out, takes him to headquarters, and groups him with several other young whizzes training to become part of the service. His peer group is made up of several intellects, but, unsurprisingly, the uneducated Eggsy comes out on top.
Currently deterring the premises is Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson), a lispy philanthropist in the process of creating technology that could spell world destruction by way of electronic mind control (don’t ask). So, lucky for Eggsy, his training may come in handy, especially after it seems that important members of Kingsman are weakening to Valentine’s mad clutches.
With a lively wicked performance from Jackson, Kingsman, like one of its characters suggests, is as good as its villain: exaggerated, bombastic, agreeably oily, though a little too violent. Indeed, the majority of Kingsman is an amusing take on what the Bond franchise could have been, had 007 been 17 and let loose in a maze of rated-R obstacles. But sometimes, the film goes too far, a shame when so much of it sits a cut above other modern blockbusters.
My most prominent issue lies in the constant profanity and the sometimes disturbing violence. Though I don’t liken myself to the most prudish of people, tonal issues arise through Kingsman’s inability to figure out if it’s joking or if it’s a bit sick in the head. The fight scenes are astonishingly well-choreographed, haphazardly exciting in their fast-motion dexterity — but somewhere during the halfway mark, the film sours once it sets a mass slaughter in a church, for instance.
But for all its faults, it's hard not to like Kingsman: The Secret Service. Taron Egerton, reminiscent of a young Guy Pearce, has serious movie star potential. You certainly won’t look at the normally smooth Colin Firth the same way again. And Vaughn (Kick Ass, X-Men: First Class), for the most part, gives us a strictly fun action movie, full of terrific lines and thrillingly choreographed brawls. I just wish the film carried the understanding that violence has to match tone. For a movie so ready to charm us, we shouldn’t have to buckle up and grab our barf bags right after we gleam during a witty exchange. B