Movie Review: Kingsman: The Secret Service

CAST: Colin Firth, Taron Egerton, Mark Strong, Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Caine, Sofia Boutella, Sofie Cookson

WRITER: Jane Goldman, Matthew Vaughn

DIRECTOR: Matthew Vaughn

CINEMATOGRAPHER: George Richmond

RELEASED: 2015

In a scene in KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE, the leader of the espionage group tries to guess the name behind the initials of the lead character’s pet dog, JB. He hazards James Bond and Jason Bourne but the correct answer, rather, is Jack Bauer. Bourne, Bauer, and post Brosnan Bond took the fun out of all the secret agent films. Lacking requisite cheekiness and escapist charm, most of these films are dead serious, abandoning some of the more ludicrous stuff like complicated gadgets, exotic locations, megalomaniacs and their unhinged henchmen. Based on a comic book, KINGSMAN is juvenile entertainment at its finest and the recognizable homages to old Bond films make it a must-see for fans of the genre.

Colin Firth, in his most kick-ass role as Galahad, is the brightest spot in the film. Talk about transformation, the polite and charming British heartthrob  looks so much better killing people in a suit. Despite possessing a charm receptacle enough to equip countless romantic comedies and period films, Firth remains a left-field choice to take on this secret agent role. Galahad is unafraid to kick, pierce, strangle, and execute headshots — and so I am not sure if he is first actor that comes to mind for such a description. But he made it possible. Unlike other actors of certain age taking a crack at action films, including Liam Neeson and Pierce Brosnan, Firth has the terrific fortune of participating in a good one with an excellent cast. Taron Egerton, as the lead character, is a promising newcomer. Rumor has it, he beat rising stars Jack O’Connell and John Boyega for the role. I mean, come on. Instead of turning his role into a chav cliche, he infused it with the proper amount of humor, heart, and chutzpah. Mark Strong as Merlin, think of him as the sort of intelligence expert, master trainer, and quartermaster all rolled into one, is refreshingly not the villain. Rather, he is granted scenes to demonstrate his deadpan comic timing. (I like this kind of Strong.) Michael Caine can do a good job of his character in his sleep. Scene-stealer though is, no question, Sofia Boutella as the female henchman Gazelle. In the tradition of grotesque Bond miscreants, Gazelle has blades for legs. Think Oscar Pistorius as a murderous heel. Oh. Scratch that: remember Richard Kiel as Jaws in THE SPY WHO LOVED ME and MOONRAKER? Gazelle reminds me of him and her blades also parallel his metal chompers. (Kingsman members are issued with pairs of Oxford shoes equipped with a concealed  blades. I hope this a nod to another memorable Bond baddie, Rosa Klebb.) Now, Samuel L. Jackson, as the evil genius with a pronounced lisp, is not the kind of megalomaniac I was hoping for. I mean, his plans for global destruction is nefarious enough and sometimes justified, but he looks quite anemic next to Gazelle. The lisp and his outfit, which I assume is deliberate to further differentiate him from the elegant Firth, diminishes his malefic stature. I guess, after a parade of badass roles, a lisping Samuel L. Jackson is hard to picture.

Over-all, the undeniable strength of the film lies within its director, Matthew Vaughn. Once again, the man behind KICK-ASS and X-MEN: FIRST CLASS, delivers an entertaining action film. Most people will remember the church scene in KINGSMAN, and for good reason, but I like the pub scene best. Derivative but still fun, it is reminiscent of Michael Fassbender as Eric Lensherr, exacting justice from old Nazi soldiers in X-MEN: FIRST CLASS. Likewise, repeating the pub scene at the end of the film is also a neat trick; rescuing the audience from torpid and commonplace master-protege training montage. Best of all, the film benefits from the director’s pop sensibilities. Mixing hits from Dizzee Rascal, Take That, and a selection of “Pomp and Circumstance” to add dark but gleeful notes to the ensuing on-screen bloodshed. Though I have not read the source material of KINGSMAN, I do not think it is as profound as the more iconic comic mutants. Still, the filmmakers were able to include other issues such as domestic violence, social class, climate change, and inept global leaders without sucking the fun out of the film.

James Bond is not the most righteous of characters. In fact, he is an international skirt chaser. Therefore, it is not surprising KINGSMAN also touched on the subject. Some feminists are complaining about the anal joke involving a captured princess. I feel this is the point of the scene, it establishes that the gender politics of old Bond films are outdated as its hero. James Bond is a cultural touchstone who requires constant reexamination. His moral code is acceptable to a certain generation but not at present. Films like KINGSMAN and AUSTIN POWERS: INTERNATIONAL MAN OF MYSTERY highlight the antiquated ideas of Bond. The rise of Bourne and Bauer is a product of our changing times, a result of our perpetual pop cultural emendation. 

One of the best facets of the film is its take on social class differences as demonstrated in the recruitment of the lead character into the elite circle of Kingsman. Our hero learns important lessons from his recruiters and the Kingsman in return understood the need for change. Galahad hammers the point to his protege, manners, not social class, indeed make a man.

But a head-stabbing Colin Firth in bespoke suits and lethal shoes is enough reason to see this film

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