Kingsman: The Secret Service (15)
Running time: 129 min
Directed by: Matthew Vaughn
Starring: Colin Firth, Michael Caine, Taron Egerton & Samuel L Jackson
Based on the comic by Mark Millar, A veteran secret agent takes a young upstart under his wing…
Taking on the gentleman Spy genre might be the last thing you’d expect Kick-Ass and X-Men: First Class director Matthew Vaughn to do, but of course this is yet another comic book adaptation within the sea of many that have dominated the box office for the last decade; the twist here is that, instead of superheroes, the focus lies squarely on super spies, and the mysterious Kingsman organization.
Naturally, the movie could be instantly compared to the early Bond films, a prospect which the screenplay picks up and runs with. At least it answers the question of “Where did all the gadgets go when Q Branch discontinued them?” , as dart gun watches and exploding cigarette lighters litter the screen, but if the references to Bond aren’t subtle enough, we actually get a scene where the protagonist and antagonist sit down to dinner and actually discuss it (Over some majorly obvious McDonalds product placement).Throw in some references to Jack Bauer and Jason Bourne here and there and, yes, even a blind man can see what genre you’re sending up.
The story itself is decent and appealing, but it takes a very long time to truly kick into gear, with the first act being devoted to newcomer Taron Eagerton as Eggsy and his sympathetic life in a rough council estate. Eagerton delivers a great performance, serious, funny and with a hint of tragedy about him. One particular highlight involves a police chase with Eggsy behind the wheel – driving backwards! However, once the dust has settled he’s recruited into the world of the Kingsmen where the majority of the second act puts him and a few other candidates into a last man standing series of tests to prove who is the best of the best. I actually felt my eyes uncontrollably roll at this stage, but it proved to be exciting enough so as to not completely derail the plot – a skydiving sequence really shows Eggsy’s leadership skills – but it all feels rather forced as we’ve seen this happen before in countless other post-Hunger Games films and ultimately we never actually see him train to become an agent, just where do those awesome ninja fighting skills come from?!
Colin Firth gives a great performance, playing the reserved gentleman character who can more than certainly dive into the action without a moment’s notice. All the charm of Moore via the action choreography of Craig, it makes for an excellent play against type [Ed’s note, First could be the new Liam Neeson – you read it here first]. As for the fight sequences, they’re what you’ve come to expect from Vaughn – fast, kinetic and inventive, and of course retaining a hefty dose of violence (a bloody brawl in a church is worth the ticket price alone).
Samuel Jackson also plays against type here as Valentine, an evil megalomaniac much closer in spirit to a less bumbling Doctor Evil than a serious threat, which is one of the film’s major weaknesses. He shows up every once in a while to let the audience know that he’s a bad guy doing something bad, but with his unfaltering lisp and phobia of blood, he’s a joke that gets old fast.
The obligatory henchman, or henchwoman in this case, gets very little screen time too, which is sad considering her method of dispatching opponents is to cut them to ribbons with her razor blade legs, making the world’s most dangerous amputee absolutely lethal at breakdancing, spinning her legs around like the blades of a helicopter at our protagonist on a dancefloor at one point, she’s far more deadly than the movie cares to recognise.
There are a few blink and you’ll miss them extended cameos, a pre-Star Wars: The Force Awakens training Mark Hamill shows up as a haggard professor, while Michael Caine is present for a quick role as the Kingsman’s answer to M, but they really don’t serve much of a purpose and only seemed to have been included for the audience to go “Oh, is that Mark Hamill?!”.
Fortunately, Mark Strong gets much to do as the man in charge of the new recruits, guiding them through their missions and providing back up towards the end, remaining a steadfast teacher and father figure.
The rest of the supporting cast aren’t really given much, Eggsy’s Mum is involved in a story centered around domestic violence which doesn’t really get the resolution it deserves by the movie’s end (stick around for the credits), while the other Kingsman candidates were nothing more than interchangeable cardboard cut outs, which meant I found myself struggling to care about them at all as they struggled through their training. The ending is where it really loses its grip on the genre it’s trying to subvert, with the typical “raid on the bad guy’s lair” devolving into a farce more suited to Austin Powers, and as too does the villain’s plot, which is clever in its set-up, but in its execution somewhat underwhelms.
Add that to one of the most bizarre fireworks displays you’ll ever see, and a rather cheeky ending, and it flies a little too close to the sun and dangerously comes close to actually being one of those spy movies that it’s attempting to send up.
At one stage Eggsy orders a martini, asking the bartender for the exact opposite recipe to 007’s drink of choice. Ultimately, that makes for a good metaphor for The Secret Service’s take on the spy movie formula – somewhat stirred but never shaken.
3 out of 5 Nerds