Director Matthew Vaughn is no stranger to adapting novels to the big screen. More recently he has become the face of adapting graphic novels into silver screen successes. First, he adapted Mark Millar’s creator-owned comic “Kick-Ass” and turned it into a cult hit. Then he went on to revitalize the “X-Men” after the catastrophe known as “The Last Stand,” bowing out of the director’s seat for the sequel to return to Mark Millar for his series, “The Secret Service.”
In Vaughn’s “Kingsman: The Secret Service,” from the moment the screen fades from black to a cassette player playing Dire Straits’ “Money for Nothing,” the tone is set. As bombs fly overhead, devastating a desert castle, the building cartoonishly falls away into title cards while the action roars on off screen. The man fighting turns out to be Harry Hart, played by Colin Firth and the father to our lead. The events that follow tear Gary “Eggsy” Unwin’s (Taron Egerton) family apart and send him down a path of petty crime and disobedience for authority. However, after getting into major trouble, he must call upon an old friend, Mr. Hart, to help him. After watching over Eggsy for a short time, Hart sees all the right qualities and offers a spot to tryout to become the newest member of the Kingsmen.
What this movie gets so right is its ability to play with the genre. Campy spy films are becoming a thing of the past. Movies with an outlandish villain, a quirky yet near invincible sidekick and a hero with fine taste in alcohol are few and far between. This movie is aware that it can be funny and takes every opportunity to be self-referential. Valentine, Samuel L. Jackson’s diabolical character, says, “Well, this ain’t that kinda movie,” rather than falling into the trope of giving his doomsday speech.
The movie even references some of the great spies and action heroes like James Bond, Jason Bourne and the infamous Jack Bauer to get a good laugh. What is impressive about all this is that none of these nodes and quips take you out of the movie. Being self-referential is a thin line between clever or painfully annoying, and by never fully breaking forth, the film is able to keep you submersed in the world it has created.
The action choreography is stunning and fun. There are also scenes with just pure action and violence. Was it over the top? Yes, but it never felt forced or gory; it was all to progress the story and show you how serious and real the situation was. The fast sweeping and flipping camera angles kept the fight intense, making you hold your breath.
It is often said, even in this movie, that a great spy film is nothing without its villain. If a tiny voice in the back of your head isn’t cheering for the villain, then the movie has no tension. “Kingsman” went to the right man for the job with Jackson. He has played a quasi-villain in films like “Django Unchained” and “RoboCop,” but “Kingsman” puts him at center stage. Even though the character is so outlandish, with his crippling fear of blood and horrible lisp, Jackson manages to make it believable. A perfect counter point to Valentine’s flamboyance was Sofia Boutella’s role as Gazella — a henchwoman who has metal blades from the knee down and no backstory. Like Jaw’s teeth, her legs make her interesting and fun to watch. But with no motive, she never over shadows Valentine, as it should be.
Sophie Cookson’s character, Roxy, was not from the original comic and had little to no role throughout the film. She ended up as a possible love interest with no real purpose other than to fill in a few plot holes. While this may be a set up for a story line in a second film, it seemed like a large waste of screen time especially in comparison to Gazella, for whom you could not wait to come back on screen.
Taron Egerton did a good job of bringing the character of Eggsy to life. He was realistic, but never took it too seriously. The sparkle in his eyes when he walked into the room of spy suits and gadgets was the same look any teenager would have in that situation. However, more than a few times, the Welsh actor attempted an English accent that sounded overbearing and almost unrecognizable. Luckily, his character never broke into a monologue or had to explain any crucial plot devices.
The movie’s fresh sense of style and direction keep it relevant in a world of gadgetless spy films and forgettable villains (we are looking at you, “Quantum of Solace”). Besides a few minor gripes, the movie was a fun, well-shot, lighthearted spy flick that gives you a reason to watch it again for the memorable characters. Hopefully, its subtle nudges at the genre will be heard and well received.