To call a movie a live-action cartoon can either be the highest form of praise or the most disparaging form of criticism, and in the case of “Kingsman: The Secret Service”, the former is totally applicable. Based on Mark Millar’s acclaimed graphic novel series, “Kingsman” combines the over-the-top violence of an “Itchy and Scratchy” cartoon with the cheeky silliness of “Austin Powers” and delivers an action-packed black comedy spry thriller that IS what the James Bond series would look like if the outlandishness of the Sean Connery/Roger Moore era were continued into the 21st century!
Colin Firth takes the lead as the impossibly well-mannered British spy Harry Hart, also known by his codename of “Galahad”, Taron Egerton plays his young apprentice, Gary “Eggsy” Unwin. Samuel L. Jackson is his usually hammy self in the role of the lisping villainous billionaire, Richmond Valentine, while Sofia Boutella portrays his right-hand woman Gazelle. Mark Strong steps into the role of the Kingsman’s tech expert, Merlin, with Sophie Cookson playing Eggsy’s fellow recruit to the organization, Roxy Morton. Samantha Womack portrays Eggsy’s mother, Michelle, while Geoff Bell appears as her abusive boyfriend, Dean. Mark Hamill also appears in the small but pivotal role of German scientist Professor James Arnold, and Michael Caine stops in as Harry’s fellow veteran Kingsman Chester King, codenamed “Arthur”.
Despite having many academic and intellectual achievements to his name, Gary “Eggsy” Unwin runs into trouble of some kind everywhere he goes, whether in the form of his mother’s overbearing and abusive boyfriend Dean, or the London police for his delinquent activities that go as far as grand theft auto.
Eggsy is bailed out of his latest pickle by Harry Hart, an Agent for the top secret British intelligence organization known as “Kingsman”, who recognizes that the young ne’er do well may have what it takes to be the organization’s newest recruit. Harry, who operates under the Kingsman codename “Galahad”, feels further compelled to take Eggsy under his wing due to his connection to his father, who served in Kingsman and even sacrificed his life to save him during a mission in the Middle East.
As Eggsy begins his rigorous Kingsman training alongside his fellow recruits, including another young Londoner named Roxy Morton, billionaire philanthropist Richmond Valentine unveils his latest business venture involving a new state-of-the-art SIM card that grants users unlimited free internet access from any digital device on Earth. However, unbeknownst to the world, the SIM cards are a secret ploy to trigger everyone in ear shot to violently attack each other as part of Valentine’s plot to “save” humanity from destroying the world through climate change and overpopulation.
Director Matthew Vaughn is utterly unconcerned with anything approaching realism in “Kingsman”, and while that might sound like a criticism at face value, it’s by far the highest compliment that can be bestowed upon it.
With its casual zaniness, the film could almost fit right in with the “Austin Powers” series; Samuel L. Jackson’s performance of the child-like Valentine (the polar-opposite of his portrayals of Nick Fury) would certainly make the Dean’s List at Evil Medical School! The film solidifies its aim to be the modern-day answer to the Connery/Moore era of the James Bond series in Harry’s unusually gentlemanly bar-room brawl with a gang of potty-mouthed cockney’s intent on beating Eggsy’s face in.
With his mastery of Bartitsu, the eclectic British martial art made famous in the Sherlock Holmes novels, Harry battles off his opponents with a combination of fighting skill and a bulletproof umbrella – and that’s a string of words so sublime in their blend of the utterly ridiculous with the mesmerizingly awesome that I feel as privileged to have typed them as I do to have seen them play out on-screen!
“Kingsman” absolutely revels in that level of tongue-in-cheek craziness in every second of its run time. We may applaud the tenacity of amputee Olympic sprinters who set world records with their artificial metallic legs, but “Kingsman” would never dream of leaving it at that, and conjures up one of the greatest evil enforcers of few words since Boba Fett in the form of Valentine’s deadly assassin Gazelle, who flips and soars through the air while kicking her enemies in the face with her own synthetic limbs, each equipped with a pair of retractable blades. The film could have been nothing but Gazelle flip-flopping her way through a crowded bus station while slicing the throat of everyone around her for two hours, and the audience would have gotten its money’s worth three times over, but “Kingsman” resists the urge to play it that safe, even if doing so would’ve been perfectly, entertainingly acceptable!
Valentine’s plot to “save” humanity from destroying the Earth through climate change and overpopulation is right out of “Rocky and Bullwinkle” in its delivery method. His first test run of his doomsday device gives way to a show-stopping fight sequence that (were it not for a literal hate group serving as Valentine’s guinea pigs) would almost leave you feeling guilty for marvelling so much at Harry and dozens of unwilling people being forcibly compelled to violently attack one another.
By the time Valentine initiates his plot to unleash his weapon of mass extinction upon humanity, the film has fully morphed into the live-action 007 cartoon its striven to be with Merlin and Roxy aiding Eggsy in battling his way past Valentine’s personal army to take on Gazelle in a final battle that proves that, in the right context, CGI and wire-fu can deliver a martial arts showdown worthy of the stunt-driven WOW-factor of Jackie Chan in his prime!
Spy movies are rarely as much of an out-and-out blast as “Kingsman: The Secret Service”. The film completely forsakes the verisimilitude of Jason Bourne and the ruggedness of any post-Cold War Bond film, and concerns itself with nothing more or less than giving you a stonking, rollicking good time. For a less well-constructed homage to spy movies, that might be an impossible mission. For “Kingsman”, it’s a cocktail of wild and glorious insanity, delivered shaken, not stirred!
- The film is based upon Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons’ comic book series “The Secret Service”. Following the film’s release, subsequent re-issues of the series were retitled “Kingsman: The Secret Service”.
- Mark Millar has written such acclaimed comic book story arcs as “Superman: Red Son”, “Old Man Logan”, which served as the basis for 2017’s “Logan”, “Ultimate Fantastic Four”, “Ultimate X-Men”, and the Marvel “Civil War” story arc, which served as the basis for 2016’s “Captain America: Civil War“.
- Dave Gibbons is well-known as the artist for the best-selling graphic novel “Watchmen” on which he collaborated with writer Alan Moore.
- Samuel L. Jackson joined the film out of his long-standing desire to appear in a James Bond movie.
- Director Matthew Vaughn previously directed 2011’s “X-Men: First Class”, and stepped away from directing its sequel, 2014’s “X-Men: Days of Future Past”, in order to direct “Kingsman”. Vaughn felt that spy movies had become too serious, and took on the project out of his desire to make “a fun one”
- Mark Hamill appears in the film in the role of Professor James Arnold who is kidnapped at the beginning of the film. In the “Kingsman” graphic novel, Mark Hamill himself is the kidnappee.
- Former Jackie Chan stunt team member Brad Allan served as the film’s stunt coordinator, a role he would reprise for the film’s sequel, “Kingsman: The Golden Circle”.
Film Rating: 8.5/10
- “Manners. Maketh. Man.” – Harry (while locking the door to the pub and preparing to fight Eggsy’s bullies.)
- “I don’t think everyone would thank you for that one.” – Eggsy (upon learning that Harry prevented the assassination of Margaret Thatcher.)
- “Do I look like I give a #%&$?” – Valentine (after hearing that accelerating his doomsday project will cost a fortune.)
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