Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015) Review:
My first Bond movie was ‘Casino Royale’. I had heard of the legend of James Bond and the spy genre was one that I was familiar with even though I’d never seen a spy movie myself. Films like the Incredibles, the Austin Powers franchise and countless cartoons had made the spy cliches and tropes readily apparent to me. The outlandish villains, the ridiculous gadgets, and a film score that would be one moment, a subtle bassline and then the next an exploding trumpet. All of these references I had come to know, but I’d never actually seen the source material. It seemed intimidating to get into a franchise with 20 previous iterations and nearly 50 years of history, especially to a young movie buff of 10. So there, watching ‘Casino Royale’, my first spy movie, I was ecstatic.
To be honest, the movie was wonderful, but my young self couldn’t help but feel cheated. The music was serviceable, but not particularly thrilling. The villain was calculated but hardly larger than life. The gadgets were practical but not exactly interesting. All of the things I had been trained to look out for were nowhere to be found. I’m not saying I didn’t like what I got, it just wasn’t what I sought out. The opening chase scene of ‘Casino Royale’ is a technical marvel and one of the best action scenes of the last decade, and a steely-eyed James Bond is just as entertaining as a smirking one, but when you’re looking for the series known as an invisible car, a tracking device arm implant just isn’t going to cut it. The spy genre is now, one of fiction, rather than fantasy.
Mr. Andrews himself, playing Harry Hart, premier agent of the last line of defense against the evil and the maniacal. As Eggsy and Harry meet properly, the two discuss why Eggsy finds himself in these situations and suggests that he would be better off doing something else with his youth. Eggsy, having no clue what else he’s to do with his life, and having seen King George VI kick enormous amounts of ass, readily accepts the offer to join the titular organization Kingsman: The Secret Service. A spy organization that operates with no affiliation to any government and no agenda except peace and prosperity.
What follows is Eggsy’s journey from becoming a street rat hoodlum to a gentleman spy, akin to ‘Trading Places’, ‘My Fair Lady’ and ‘Pretty Woman’, movies which the film itself references. Said journey is made with the type of film director Matthew Vaughn has become known for. There’s lots of blood and gore, and the violence is almost another character in the film. It’s very over the top and never tries to convince you that it’s supposed to be gritty and realistic, as many films in this genre have become. In fact, ‘Kingsman’ seems to be the perfect fit for Vaughn, having directed both ‘Kick Ass’ and ‘X-Men: First Class’.
‘Kick Ass’ had the brutal action and foul language, and the quick-witted dialogue, but was held back by having to sell a realistic story in an obviously hyper-stylized world. ‘X-Men First Class’ has an entire sequence in which Erik Lensherr goes from country to country in a black turtleneck and silenced handgun, that seemed more like test footage for a new Bond film rather than a superhero movie. Not to mention ‘Kingsman’ and ‘First Class’ both feature stories that involve extended training of a group of young kids all whilst preparing to fight a world-destroying villain. ‘Kingsman’ gives Vaughn free reign to tell the type of in your face action story that he seems to have always wanted to tell.
However, this might be ‘Kingsman’s biggest problem. If you don’t reserve your predilections and find it difficult to buy into a film where a woman walks around on metal stilts that she can cut a man perfectly in half with, then this movie isn’t for you and you probably won’t enjoy it. For myself, ‘Kingsman’ had such a feeling of genuine glee and silliness that I found it easy to discount the minor gripes I had with it. Yes, some of the jokes are a tad bit too juvenile, but the film isn’t trying to sell you on anything high brow in the slightest. In fact, the film itself touches on the dichotomy of audiences in its story.
The whole point of Colin Firth appointing Eggsy as a candidate for Kingsman is that he wants the organization to better represent members of a lower class. The leader of Kingsman, Arthur, played by Michael Caine, thinks to attempt to transform Eggsy is a waste of time, to which Harry replies, with respect, “You’re a snob”. That perfectly encapsulates the film in a nutshell. There’s nothing wrong with this brand of humour or cartoonish storytelling, and anyone who thinks so might just be taking themselves too seriously.
‘Kingsman’ follows this vein of the rich vs the poor in its story as well. Not to give away too much but, simply put, the main villain, Valentine, played by Sam Jackson, has a plan that affects the world at large, benefiting a few, but forsaking the many. While there’s nothing wrong with the main conflict, it’s secondhand to the action scenes. I mentioned how the violence is almost a character in the film, and that’s because so much attention is given to it. Every time there’s a fight scene the movie it’s as if the movie itself is getting into a fight. It stops, takes off its earrings and gets ready to throw down.
The way the scenes are shot solves an issue with how action is generally shot. The fights are either boring or too incomprehensible. In ‘Kingsman’, the fights have a dynamic structure to them, constantly building until its end, and adding in new forms of violence. With each one of these moves, the camera follows the final blow making each one have its own substantial impact. This is enough to keep the viewer entertained and it also never feels as if there’s no reason for it, which would be completely fine considering how impressively these scenes are filmed.
As far as the performances go, young bloods Taron Egerton and Sophie Cookson hold their own among bigwigs like Caine, Jackson, Firth, and Strong. Especially Jackson, who clearly seems to be having a blast as the villain. Valentine as a character has an aversion to violence but has no issue ordering the slaughter of countless people and isn’t the malicious type of villain. There’s no scene where he gets to chew the scenery in a rage, and at most will seem like a kid who just got his favourite toy taken away. He has a childish quality that, when juxtaposed with his character, leads to plenty of funny scenes. I’m also pretty sure he said Motherfuck a few times, but that’s probably a given at this point. At the heart of the whole film, however, is the relationship between Eggsy and Harry. The two share a bond that drives both their motivations. Harry is like the uncle who’s like a father to Eggsy seeing as his real dad is out of the picture.
Rating: Big Screen Watch