Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Stars: Colin Firth, Taron Egerton, Mark Strong, Samuel L Jackson, Michael Caine, Sofia Boutella, Jack Davenport, Mark Hamill, Sophie Cookson, Tom Prior.
“The name is Darcy, Mr Darcy…?” Colin Firth becomes an unlikely action hero and super spy in this over the top but entertaining spy action thriller from the creative team behind Kick-Ass.
The Kingsmen are an independent intelligence agency operating at the highest level of discretion and their mission is simply to protect the world from those who would try to destroy it. Each of its agents is named after a legendary knight of the Round Table, and the head of the organisation is known as Arthur (played here by Michael Caine). Whenever one of the agents is killed in the line of duty or dies, each of the remaining members puts forward a candidate to undergo rigorous training to fill the vacant post.
Veteran agent Harry Hart (aka Galahad) proposes Gary “Eggsy” Unwin (played by newcomer Taron Egerton), a street wise kid from a council estate, to fill a vacancy. Eggsy is the son of one of Harry’s best friend, an agent who died during a mission many years earlier. Eggsy is a kid from the wrong side of the tracks, and has to compete against a number of snotty posh kids from privileged backgrounds. His crude attitude and lack of refinement and gentlemanly qualities paints him immediately as an outsider in this world. But it also makes him well suited for this world of violence and betrayal. We get plenty of screen time dedicated to his training and My Fair Lady like make-over that shows he has a knack for this dangerous work.
The latest threat to the world comes from megalomaniacal billionaire mobile phone developer and technological tycoon Valentine (Samuel L Jackson), who is concerned about the twin problems of global warming and overpopulation. He concocts a scheme to reverse the effects of both by using specially created SIM cards that will trigger a worldwide massacre. It is up to the urbane Harry and newly minted agent Eggsby to try and thwart Valentine’s plans, free some kidnapped scientists and save the world.
Kingsman: The Secret Service is based on the graphic novel series written by Marc Millar and Dave Gibbons, and offers a clever and entertaining mix of spy action film and the familiar tropes of the coming of age tale with hand grenades and other deadly gadgets. The film is laced with plenty of smart humour and references to the classic spy thrillers of the 60s, and pays homage to the early Bond films, the popular tv series The Avengers, the Harry Palmer series of spy thrillers that starred Michael Caine, and even The Man From UNCLE.
Kingsman is a homage of sorts to the spy genre of the 60s, a time when debonair gentlemen spies dominated the popular genre. But the plot is wild, over the top and borderline ridiculous and almost comes across as a parody of the genre. The director is Matthew Vaughn, who has a great track record in bringing graphic novels and comic books to the screen (Kick-Ass, X-Men: First Class, etc), and he has a great understanding of the conventions and tropes of the genre. He handles the material with the same sort of energy and flair he brought to Kick-Ass. The script, from Vaughn and regular collaborator Jane Goldman, is sharp and references numerous other pop cultural sources, and fans will recognise the many nods to other successful comics, young adult novels and tv series.
An early scene set in a bar sees Harry casually demolish a handful of thugs to the tune of Freebird, an energetic and inventive sequence that perfectly captures the tone of the film.
But then there is one scene about 3/4 of the way through that turns the film on its ear and brings about an unexpected change in tone and will shock many in the audience. Some of the violence has a rather nasty edge to it – a scene involving a pitched battle inside a church is particularly brutal but well staged, and a climactic scene involving a succession of exploding heads is also quite over the top.
Firth has rarely played an out and out action hero, but he acquits himself well here, bringing a touch of class and gravitas to his role. He apparently worked out for six months to become fit enough to play the urbane Harry, who is a dashing and cool secret agent in the mold of The Avengers‘ John Steed, and he wields an umbrella with aplomb and lethal efficiency. His eyeglasses are reminiscent of Caine’s Harry Palmer.
Newcomer Egerton looks like he has just wandered in from the set of Attack The Block, sporting the latest in fashionable track suits and a healthy disrespect for authority and a cynical attitude. Although Caine has a small role here he brings his usual class and gravitas to the part. Mark Strong brings his usual physical presence to his role as Merlin, the Kingsman’s ruthless drill sergeant and technical guru who oversees the training of the new candidates. He brings a strength, pragmatism and warm sense of humour to proceedings. And former Star Wars heartthrob Mark Hamill is barely recognisable here in a small role as the bumbling Professor Arnold.
And Jackson is memorable as the Bond-like villain here, delivering an eccentric take on the usual cliched supervillain. He hams it up wonderfully, chewing the scenery, and surprisingly plays his menacing character with a speech impediment, which adds a wonderful idiosyncratic touch to his flamboyant character. As with any good Bond film though the supervillain has to have a loyal and lethal henchman – Goldfinger had Odd-job and The Spy Who Loved Me‘s Karl Stromberg had the marvellous Jaws – and here Valentine has Gazelle (played by Sofia Boutella), an athletic assassin with a pair of deadly, razor sharp prosthetic legs that would make Oscar Pistorius green with envy.
There is more than enough action, violence, biting humour and inventiveness though to suggest that Kingsman: The Secret Service could easily kickstart a successful new franchise.