By Nick Anstett
Elm Staff Writer
Colin Firth’s suit clad spy, Galahad, sits across from a flat brimmed technocrat with a lisp played by Samuel L. Jackson as the two of them dine on a high class meal of McDonald’s Happy Meals served to them by an assassin with blades for legs. Jackson’s Valentine turns to Galahad and asks, “Did you ever watch old spy movies? They’re too serious for me nowadays.” You can almost see director Matthew Vaughn (“Kick Ass”, “X-Men First Class”) and screenwriters Jane Goldman and Mark Millar nodding along enthusiastically. “Kingsman: The Secret Service” is a gleeful action packed throwback to the spy films of yore filled with character, style, and most importantly a sense of fun.
Garry “Eggsy” Unwin (Taron Egerton) is a down- on-his-luck 20-something struggling to survive on the streets of London. When he’s not picking fights with his abusive step father or the local thugs down at the bar, he’s trying to put his squandered education and military training to good use. Luckily for Eggsy, he’s drawn the attention of the Kingsman, an independent espionage agency focused on protecting the planet from the problems the world’s governments cannot or will not address. It’s not long before a senior member Harry Hart/Galahad has taken Eggsy under his wing in the hopes of training him to become the next generation of super spy just as a new plot that could end the world as we know hatches in the shadows.
Does that synopsis sound familiar? It may and it probably should. “Kingsman” plays in the sandbox created by James Bond and his ilk with glee and abandon. It’s paying tribute to a genre, but also toying with it in ways that feel genuinely contemporary. Much of this comes through Vaughn’s direction and the dynamic and creative script. It plays within the tropes of its medium to create something that’s familiar but also surprising. Much of this is due to “Kingsman’s” R-rated vulgarity and intensity. While it tiptoes the line often too closely to something juvenile, the end result is something that is routinely unexpected but most of all entertaining.
Vaughn is also quickly making a name for himself as being one of the most stylish blockbuster directors currently in Hollywood. While his directing is already filled with creative camera shots and kinetic montage sequences, Vaughn really shines in how he shoots action sequences. The set pieces in “Kingsman” are not only clearer and more dynamic than almost any other of its peers but they filled with a unique sense of visual flourish. One standout sequence ranks among one of the most impressive and brutal in recent memory. Through a series of long take shots set to Lynard Skynard’s “Freebird,” Firth fights his way through a Church filled with hate-spewing enemy combatants making use of any weapon he can get his hands on. It’s a giddy sort of hyper-violence paired with one of the most respected British actors of our generation and impeccable directing style to create a moment that justifies the price of a ticket in and of itself.
Firth in particular shines in “Kingsman.” Watching the Academy Award winning star of “The King’s Speech” swagger, curse, and fight his way through an R-rated blockbuster is a treat and it’s clear that Firth is enjoying every second of it. In a similar vein, Jackson’s Steve Jobs-esque villain is a blast as well. Jackson, while still playing into a type that audience expect of him, gives an almost atypical performance as the lisping, but also oddly particular villain who vomits at the sight of blood and violence. When the two are on screen shooting zingers and discussing old spy films together it’s great.
That being said, “Kingsman” at times does tend to overstay its welcome. As formerly mentioned, as fun as the unbound humor and violence can be, there does reach a point where it appears that Vaughn has tapped into his inner 15-year-old boy perhaps too much. The final act of the film in particular begins to grow stale as it drags its way through climax after climax. It never truly overstays its welcome, but for a film that entertained through its style and invention its conclusion feels more half-baked than one would hope.
“Kingsman: The Secret Service” is a tribute to a classic style of blockbuster filmmaking while also forging its own unique identity. It’s sure to entertain through its wit, style, and performances, especially those willing to step back and give in to its own snark.