One wonders why the director of a lucrative franchise like the X-Men would leave after just one film to do a passion project. This is exactly what Matthew Vaughn did upon completion of X-Men: First Class in 2011, in order to make way in his schedule to fully create and grow this film, Kingsman: The Secret Service, from the ground up. Sounds ludicrous, right? Except, mere moments into Kingsman, its becomes obvious why. Vaughn made his name with crime films, most famously Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Layer Cake, before stepping into the comic book world with the widely received and willfully distinct Kick-Ass, with its grittier genome and more of-the-Earth premise. Kingsman is the culmination of both of those worlds – a British spy thriller itself, the Mark Millar book, named The Secret Service, has both the James Bond swagger as well as the Kick-Ass fantasy, and as such is an ideal playground for Vaughn to really stretch his directorial legs and tell the kind of light-hearted spy story that’s been slightly lacking in cinema of late.
Focusing on one Gary ‘Eggsy’ Unwin, played by Taron Egerton, Kingsman: The Secret Service wears its Britishness on its sleeve from the get-go. Eggsy is a young lad growing up in a council estate in London. Under-achieving in school, he finds himself at the bad end of an unhappy home and one night ends up in jail, where he meets Colin Firth’s Harry Hart, who offers him the life of espionage as a way of enticement away from the wayward path. These two have an instant chemistry in the mentor/student relationship, with the comedy coming easy as the montages demonstrate Gary’s transition from full-on schoolboy to dapper special agent, with all the trimmings of a young man from the streets still intact. He’s contrasted well with Roxy, played by Sophie Cookson, who comes in as a more pruned student into high class, knowing she’ll serve the British empire at the end should she succeed There’s a very strong sense of class in how Gary is portrayed compared to his spy brethren; he’s the ‘bit of rough’ when he meets other KIA members and, as he attempts to schmooze up to them, it becomes obvious his kind isn’t the kind they want, and he’ll have to work that much harder to prove himself, even with his high class entrance advocate Harry by his side.
Given that this is the director of X-Men: First Class and Kick-Ass, and a spy action film to boot, the anticipation is high for what Vaughn does with his action sequences without broadly color suits and superpowers. As with previous films, the action is relatively sparse, with Kingsman’s real strength being the characters rather than the somersaults and gadgets. That said, the action counts, with every sequence feeling memorable and every character having at least some moment in the spotlight. The cult of personality surrounding Samuel L. Jackson’s Richmond Valentine makes for some of the most satisfying fight scenes, with his most vivacious of henchmen, the already internet-famous Gazelle’s razor-sharp prosthetic legs delivering possibly the most outrageous piece of choreography in the film. Even with the more grounded story at work, Vaughn’s propensity to find windows into the ridiculous are to be commended, and some of the gadgets used really make Bond’s own Q look a touch out-of-date.
It has been very obvious his entire career that Matthew Vaughn wants to direct a James Bond film. Every fiber of his film-making being wants a shot at 007, and after seeing Kingsman: The Secret Service, I hope he doesn’t get it. He’s too well served in the comic book world, taking these lesser known properties and bringing them to life in eclectic mixes of both the well-dressed and the slightly obscene. Kingsman’s switching between tackling themes like class-divide and generation gaps and highly-choreographed, high-fire action sequences is set to a quick rhythm that begets the running time, making the whole experience feel like a well-oiled machine beginning to end. Even behind all the gizmos and narrative nuance, there’s an unshakeable sense of urgent fun that’s just infectious from the moment go and only lets up with the credits starts to roll, even managing to avoid easy pit-falls such predictable love interests and swagger melting into smarm on-screen. Perhaps the only flaw is that amongst it all, its difficult to discern what exactly the film is saying, but maybe that’s the point in and of itself. Kingsman: The Secret Service deserves better than to come out in January, where films like Taken 3 go to die.
Incredibly fun spy action romp. 9/10