Kingsman: The Secret Service is the first truly awesome movie of 2015.
As with the majority of this February’s major releases, the movie was originally meant to debut last year, this past October to be exact, but was delayed to finish post-production. Unlike most of the other major releases this month however, which have all suffered from their delays it seems, Kingsman: The Secret Service stands tall and strong. It’s been refined to irreverent perfection, and gives the increasingly stuffy spy movie genre the kind of shot in the arm that it desperately needs.
The movie’s timing in 2015 is perfect as well, as this seems to be a year with increased attention on the spy movie genre, and its potential pitfalls in recent years. Spectre, Mission: Impossible 5 and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. are all examples of high-profile spy films on the way in 2015, and with them has come the debate of whether spy movies have started to take themselves too seriously with their modern, gritty desire to all follow in the footsteps of the Bourne franchise. Paul Feig’s upcoming spoof, Spy appears to be capitalizing on this debate as well this year, though Kingsman: The Secret Service beat it to the punch.
Even putting aside how timely its subject matter is however, Kingsman: The Secret Service is nonetheless a fun and highly entertaining February movie on its own merits, and a landslide contender for this month’s best cinematic offering, which should come as no surprise, seeing as it’s from the same graphic novel writer and director that formerly brought us the Kick-Ass series. Like Kick-Ass and its sequel, Kingsman: The Secret Service is a biting spoof that still succeeds as a great story, with an excellent mix of mind-blowing action and outrageous humour. It also effortlessly continues the massive hot streak that comic book movies have pretty well consistently been on since last year!
Kingsman: The Secret Service is the story of British delinquent youth, Gary ‘Eggsy’ Unwin. He will be our Dave Lizewski in this case. Unlike Dave Lizewski however, Eggsy is not a bumbling optimist, and is actually quite the opposite in many respects. With a doormat mother, a father he never knew, and an abusive stepfather that has provided him and his family with nothing, Eggsy has become a cynic and a mischief maker, albeit one with enough street smarts and savvy to keep him strong.
When Eggsy was an infant however, unbeknownst to him, his father died in the line of duty for a secret agency called Kingsman, comprised of the finest and most ruthlessly skilled super-spies in the world. Due to his father’s legacy, Eggsy is able to call one of his father’s former associates, Harry Hart, a.k.a. Galahad, to bail him out of prison after his latest act of destruction, at which point he is put on the path to realizing his potential.
On paper, this sounds like a dry story, almost to the point where it’s intentionally set up to lull audiences into a false sense of bland security. Before long however, the true brilliance of Kingsman: The Secret Service begins to shine through.
For most of the movie’s first half, Colin Firth carries audiences as the all-capable spy mentor, Galahad. With superhuman fighting ability and yet impenetrable good manners (despite a proud penchant for cursing in several situations), Galahad represents the old world of cinematic super-spies, being as ludicrous as he is charming. Eggsy represents the modern moviegoing audience, constantly dumbfounded and questioning just how Galahad and Kingsman can carry on the way they do. Galahad takes a backseat in the second half however, leaving young newcomer, Taron Egerton to steal the movie as an expertly trained and equally appealing leading man!
In this respect, audiences live the journey through Kingsman as Eggsy does, which initially appears routine, complete with a requisite youth training program ripped straight from modern teen action-dramas, but soon becomes anything but. Eventually, Eggsy embraces the increasingly outlandish world of Kingsman, taking audiences back to a simpler and more innocent time for the spy movie. Likewise, the character dialogue lovingly embraces outdated and non-sensical spy tropes, referencing things like the shoe phone from Get Smart and the tailor shop from The Man From U.N.C.L.E. with love in its heart and its tongue in its cheek. The movie simultaneously functions as an acknowledgement of how little sense spy movies make, but also paints a compelling portrait of why they may be better off not making too much sense.
The non-sensical spectacle really comes to a head when we meet our villain too, Samuel L. Jackson’s billionaire philanthropist, Richmond Valentine. Valentine’s ultimate plot is so cliched, and yet so proudly asinine, that you can’t help but chuckle at it. Jackson speaking with a lisp (which he apparently overcame before becoming an actor) gives the guy even more character, as he carelessly spends his infinite fortune away on inexplicable things, and has a dinner palette for guests that will no doubt shock pretty much anyone.
Similarly, his main henchwoman, Gazelle (who is gender-swapped from her male counterpart in the source comic), a break-dancing super-assassin with spring-loaded blade feet, harkens back to the strangely routine acceptance of deformed killers made into impossible living weapons in spy media. The fact that no one ever directly inquires about Gazelle’s deadly feet, even civilians with no knowledge of Kingsman, feels brilliantly intentional as well. In real life, you’d no doubt raise an eyebrow if you saw a woman walking around with sword feet, but in the crazy world of Kingsman: The Secret Service, it’s just another day at the office for personalities on all sides.
A few other actors round out the ensemble, including Michael Caine as the diginified head of Kingsman, Arthur, and Mark Strong as Kingsman trainer, Merlin, reuniting with the Kick-Ass crew after playing that series’ mob boss villain, Frank D’Amico. Both of them contribute to the movie’s biting charm, namely Strong, who participates in the climax to outstanding effect. Mark Hamill also makes a cameo as a key character that sets the plot in motion, though it’s a bit disappointing that we don’t see more of him, especially since he was featured as himself in the source comic.
The various characters in the movie start off credible, then become increasingly more removed from reality as the movie goes on, but it’s all done exceptionally well. The performances are consistently cheerful, though not to the point where more dramatic scenes lose impact, and the dialogue is realized perfectly, amounting to some of the best spy satire that Hollywood has ever produced!
Kingsman: The Secret Service has a conventional spy movie plot on paper, but that’s precisely why it’s such an entertaining ride. The movie does an exceptional job at turning established spy movie convention on its ear, without feeling like it’s just recycling a bunch of cliches to no real effect.
The movie blends a story of youth spy training in the first half, and ridiculous super-villainy in the second half, both storytelling focuses that Hollywood has done to death in this genre, but viewed through the lens of this movie, both angles are given brilliant new life. Kingsman: The Secret Service is creative in its desire to send up what we understand about spy media, celebrating its legacy as it tears it down, though creating heaps of entertainment in how it equally makes the case of how compelling all of the insanity is.
This isn’t a story that you are meant to take seriously in the end, and that’s great. Given that many people think that spy movies need to loosen up and stop taking themselves so seriously, Kingsman: The Secret Service should be exactly what the doctor ordered. Its comedy is outstanding, but so are its action elements, outlandish as they often are. It’s all done in good fun though, and fun is something that Kingsman: The Secret Service never runs out of throughout its runtime.
You could likely predict most of the movie’s plot developments in advance, assuming you’ve seen just about any spy movie, but even then, Kingsman: The Secret Service still manages some awesome curveballs as well. Even as it satirizes a spy movie playbook that is either obsolete or overdone, the movie mines incredible entertainment value out of proudly embracing a forgotten art of filmmaking, taken to its next logical extreme. That extreme is often one of unabashed silliness, but given how much the scales need re-balancing in the spy movie genre, and how well its brainlessness is calculated, Kingsman: The Secret Service profits from its goofiness where most other movies would have collapsed under it.
Matthew Vaughn reunites with Kick-Ass comic creator and writer, Mark Millar, along with Vaughn’s MARV production banner, to helm the spiritual successor to Kick-Ass in Kingsman: The Secret Service. This only amplifies the idea that Kingsman: The Secret Service is just Kick-Ass if it were a spy movie instead of a superhero movie (which is at least a half-truth), but that’s fine, given that Vaughn and Millar already did wonderful work in 2010 when they brought Kick-Ass to theatres.
As with his brilliantly realized direction of Kick-Ass, Vaughn doesn’t shy away from highlighting the overblown insanity of the story, but doesn’t revel in it for its own sake either. The movie is helmed with an incredible sense of energy and vision, able to justify even its most outrageous of scenes in its own insane world, and it almost flicks on a dusty lightbulb in the brains of audiences; Spy movies are supposed to be fun! Why has everyone suddenly gotten so serious?!
In that sense, Vaughn takes the failed momentum of modern spy movies and vintage spy movies alike, and converts them into more fuel for Kingsman: The Secret Service. Vaughn’s skilled direction means that character moments hit with the proper punch as well, even in a ridiculous world where heads can explode in coloured fumes, and goons can bifurcate intruders with bladed feet. Disguising a smart movie as a stupid movie is one of the most difficult tasks of all for a director, and yet, Vaughn makes it look easy here!
Naturally, Kingsman: The Secret Service is very violent, and often full of tasteless cursing and sexual references, just as Kick-Ass was, but like Kick-Ass, it doesn’t feel the need to apologize for what it is. It knows its audience, it knows its strategy, and Kingsman: The Secret Service unleashes itself fully in the name of entertainment. The result is a movie that is juvenile and ludicrous, but also strangely dignified and impressive. It’s a strange beast indeed, but an immensely entertaining one!
Henry Jackman and Matthew Margeson compose the soundtrack of Kingsman: The Secret Service, after the two worked together on Kick-Ass 2, and Jackman also served as lead composer of the original Kick-Ass. Naturally, Kingsman: The Secret Service presents a score that is as cheeky as it is grand. Like so much of the rest of the movie, it’s a spectacle of overblown orchestral swells, while also being a clownish backdrop to the more insane moments of irreverent grandeur.
That’s not to say that the audio work is flimsy however. In fact, Kingsman: The Secret Service isn’t shy about highlighting its off-the-wall violence with crunches of bone and slicing of flesh. If you’re seeing a specialty UltraAVX showing or something of the sort, you’ll get an especially deafening blast of the stomach-turning violence that often takes place throughout the movie, but like Kick-Ass, this just serves to make the action feel all the more hard-hitting and impressive. Even as things could almost be complemented by a cartoon score and still fit, Kingsman: The Secret Service delivers a lot of kick to the action with its sound work, delivering action scenes that aren’t grounded in the slightest, but are tons of fun to experience nonetheless!
Kingsman: The Secret Service offers scant moments of special effects, which look solid, though there isn’t much to say about most of them. Many of them are done in the name of humour rather than true spectacle, but it also helps to continue giving Kingsman: The Secret Service its own unique sense of charm. It’s difficult to talk about some of the effects-driven moments without spoilers, but they continue to serve the idea of a spy spoof well, right down to impossible conspiracies and scientifically defiant gizmos that James Bond seems to think he’s too good for now.
There is an IMAX cut of Kingsman: The Secret Service, but it doesn’t seem to have been made available in North American territories. It’s too bad, since an IMAX screening would no doubt highlight the hard hits of the action scenes all the more, but the movie really isn’t effects-driven enough to justify it, so its omission in Canada and the U.S. is a bit understandable. Still, if you want a bit more out of the action-packed fun, you might want to seek out an UltraAVX screening, where you can really get into the action a lot more with the potent sound and camera work.
Kingsman: The Secret Service is an excellent spiritual successor to Kick-Ass, another fantastic movie that was woefully under-appreciated, along with its sequel. Since it’s more profitable, hopefully this is a movie that will eventually see a sequel, but regardless, Kingsman: The Secret Service has done far more than simply give Mark Millar and Matthew Vaughn another hit for their collaborative catalogue; It actually does a spy spoof right.
This really deserves to be highlighted, as there are far more failed spy spoofs than successful ones. Spy satire has been a genre unto itself since the days of Get Smart, but it’s very difficult to actually do it correctly, even now. Kingsman: The Secret Service deftly defies the odds however, capturing both the best bits of spy movie fundamentals, and icing them with an outer layer of rude, violent craziness that makes the spy movie genre feel more energetic and confident that it’s been in many years. As much as some of the recent 007 and Bourne efforts have indeed been superb movies, it’s difficult not to miss the days of more carefree, off-the-wall spy media. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol feels like the only recent spy flick that wasn’t afraid to have a little bit of fun with itself, in fact.
Kingsman: The Secret Service however even manages to surpass the highly entertaining Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, leaving any sense of realism at the door, in favour of just encouraging viewers to have a good time. Much like Kick-Ass, its mad genius just works somehow, reminding us of why a beloved genre of film is so beloved, while also taking its silly elements to task in a loving, yet unapologetic way.
In a year full of spy movies, Kingsman: The Secret Service starts the genre off very strong, immediately giving us the spy movie that many viewers both wanted and needed. It’s the welcome dessert that the genre has been craving after so many bitter main courses.
- Excellent, memorable characters
- Top-notch violent action
- Outrageously fun spy satire throughout
- Could have used a bit more Mark Hamill