Kingsman The Secret Service

There are moments during Mathew Vaughn’s latest film when you can only applaud the audacity of what is on screen. Gleefully playing with spy archetypes, in particular James Bond, Harry Palmer and also TV’s original Avenger John Steed, is one thing and would be more than enough. Yet Kingsman -The Secret Service goes further and does what films nowadays are not supposed to do by making excessive violence seem fun and rather cool. The result is something that will certainly not appeal to anyone who is squeamish or touchy about such matters- though the narrative even ropes them in by having a dangerous villain who can’t look at violence! For the rest of us this film is a riot, sometimes literally, from start to finish.

 Based loosely on a 2012 comic book series written by Mark Miller and Dave Gibbons proceedings open in 1997 where an unspecified undercover operation goes wrong leading to the death of an agent. A fellow operative Harry Hart who takes responsibility for the mistake visits the agent’s widow and leaves a medal in the possession of her young child. 17 years later after getting into a tight corner and being arrested the boy, for some reason named  Eggsy, calls the number on the medal and is introduced to a whole new world. Harry is part of Kingsman an ultra top secret espionage group originally set up by tailors (yes!) who operate outside of the law with an understandably high mortality rate. Harry puts Eggsy forward to compete for the latest vacant spot in the organisation which means not only access to an impressive armoury but some life coaching “like My Fair Lady” as Eggsy puts it though you can’t imagine how he would know. “The suit is our armour” he is told and the film likes to play with appearance on different levels.
Made by many of the team that delivered Kick Ass, this is a film that like its predecessor is best enjoyed with tongue firmly in cheek and some knowledge of the genre. The script and direction play with James Bond signatures pitching roughly in the 1970s era with quips, whiskey, martial arts moves and a wry treatment of even the most horrendous death. An early example is Jack Davenport’s suave agent who could have stepped right out of a Roger Moore period Bond and ends up in pieces. If you’re in the least bit sensitive about blood and gore there is more here than in the average horror film!

The narrative stretches beyond such spoofs to develop a feel of its own while remaining curiously timeless. There’s plenty of modern tech including the villain’s satellite and software driven weapon but the values Hart espouses come from another time. “Manners make the man” declares Colin Firth’s urbane Harry before despatching local thugs while barely scuffing a shoe. It’s maybe a minute of kinetic action within the confines of a bar which is like the ultimate class battle between a city gent and tracksuit sporting goons.
This sets the tone that refinement and good behaviour triumph over ordinary selfish values something further emphasised by the villain’s choice of cheap garish tracksuits and McDonalds meals. The social undercurrent doesn’t always work. The posh kids Eggsy competes against rag on him for no real reason and are never developed. In fact save for a thrilling plane drop Vaughn seems anxious to get the training bits done and dusted as quickly as he can. That being said Eggsy doesn’t lose his London vowels when suited up though the way he behaves near the end- aping earlier Harry Hart moments- suggests he might so in other words the appearance of class does help.

Eggsy is likeable and funny largely thanks to Taron Egerton’s subtle performance rather than being deeply written as a character. Egerton looks the part but underplays Eggys’s chav credentials so as to make him broader. The movie is stolen, as you’ve probably heard, by Colin Firth’s Harry. The actor seems to relish the concept of playing the gentleman agent and does so with verve. With current James Bond films being more serious minded, it’s great to see a nod to the earlier style. Samuel L Jackson is amusing too as lisping, garishly attired media magnate Richmond Valentine whose plan forces everyone in the world to become violent. Both Michael Caine and Mark Strong are present, the latter playing against his usual type. The presence of Mark Hammill as a tweed donned academic is another surprise.  It’s very much a bloke’s film though leaving female characters a bit underused in particular Sophie Cookson’s agent Roxy who gets lots of action but barely any character.
The film takes a great fork in the road about two thirds through with Eggsy forced to sit on the sidelines as his mentor faces a bigger challenge. Thus the kid is left to save the day using his wits and wearing his brand new tailored suit. It works far better than had he simply been sent on some random mission and the climax is therefore exciting and maintains the humour while amping up the tensions.
As well as Colin Firth’s performance the film is bound to be remembered most for its set pieces, especially towards the end of the film which manages to make you laugh while showing you a lot of carnage. How many people die in this film? Hundreds probably but the direction maintains the graphic origins of the story so everything is heightened.  You might say it glorifies violence but that would be a mis-reading of Kingsman’s homage to adventure films of old. As someone says “It’s not that kind of film.” The only real unanswered question at the end is how on earth did Eggsy get his nickname?

In the original comic book story actor Mark Hammill is kidnapped and held in a chalet in the Alps which is what happens in the film to Professor Arnold who is played by Mark Hammill! Also in the source comic Gary is the nephew of the Head of MI6 while Dr Arnold is the name of the villain.

As part of the promotion posh retailer Mr Porter has produced a clothes line based on the film. You can purchase any of the suits, ties etc seen on screen though probably not Valentine’s outfit.  

1 comment:

  1. KINGSMAN is, hands down, my favorite theatrical experience this year (so far), and it was just as entertaining on Blu-ray. Although I do gravitate towards more serious-minded fare, escapism done right is just as good. This film knows what it is and delivers a high-octane thrill-ride that will appeal to the kid in you. As far as a Blu-ray package, there isn't a wealth of supplementary material, but was still enough for me. So, if you like action films that kick butt and have fun while doing so, I'd highly recommend picking up KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE.