For 40 years James Bond ruled the spy genre until the franchise was rebooted. Part of the reason–Austin Powers. Mike Myers satirized nearly every spy film convention in the book with his ‘International Man of Mystery.’ Enter Daniel Craig and a more “grittier” and “realistic” Bond. If Austin Powers was the satirical commentary to the first 40 years of Bond, then Kingsman: The Secret Service is the Austin Powers to the next generation of Bond films.
Kingsman stars Colin Firth as Galahad, one of the top agents in Kingsman, a private intelligence organization not beholden to any government. Early in the film the Kingsman, looking to fill an opening in their ranks, put a set of recruits through a series to test to see if any of them have what it takes to be the next Kingsman. One of the recruits is Eggsy, British newcomer Taron Egerton, whose character shows a lot of promise, but is undisciplined and rough around the edges. Overshadowing the initiation of these would be future Kingsman is the maniacal world dominating plans of tech mogul Valentine, played ever so colorfully by Samuel L. Jackson.
As a film Kingsman hits the sweet spot between realistic spy movie and satirical comedy. Director Matthew Vaughn (Kick-Ass, X-Men: First Class) melds his comedic and action oriented sensibilities into a spy film that is fun, action packed, damn funny, but also not so silly where it’s completely bonkers and unbelievable. Yes, it mocks the old Bond with those tropes that caused the aforementioned reboot (lighters that are grenades and umbrellas that shoot a myriad of projectiles). At the end of the day, Kingsman is smarter than that. It knows what kind of movie it’s trying to be and revels in it.
One of the things I love is the meta-ness of the film. At several points both Galahad and Valentine make reference to spy movies as if they’re not in one. The exchange is fun because they’re talking around typical spy movie tropes and how they won’t fall into them. You know them: the villain telling the captured spy his plans, the civil banter between adversaries who both know the real identity of the other. Call me a movie geek, but I ate all of that up.
Speaking of Valentine, he is definitely one of the highlights of the film. Samuel L Jackson has played many roles throughout his career; many of them good, many bad. Valentine has to be in the top 10. It’s not that he’s the most evil character Jackson has played that makes him such a good villain. It is more of his unique sense of embodying madness that makes him such a great bad guy. Granted, his character is portrayed as a genius and the richest man in the world so that attitude is warranted; but his simplistic reasoning plays right into his megalomania. The icing on the cake has to be the lisp that Valentine has. Usually something like this would be really gimmicky. Thankfully Jackson has some good direction supported by great dialogue that makes speaking with the lisp not so overdone. Save for not being too strong of a guy (and a fear of blood), Valentine is a pretty unique villain.
I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about Valentine’s left hand woman and bodyguard, Gazelle. In classic Bond henchmen fashion, Gazelle lives up to her name because she has prosthetic blades for legs. But, the twist here is that they’re actual blades…Like sharp blades that can slice things. In one of the early scenes in the film Gazelle kills a man by literally slicing him in two. While totally implausible (and in some instances even a little corny), within the context of the film combined with the way her character is presented, you buy in to the fact that she is one badass chick.
An aspect of the film that keeps things fresh is the initiation process that Kingsman puts their potential recruits through. Rather than train them, they test them by giving them real challenges that show what kind of people they really are. In one of their first tests, the recruits’ sleeping quarters quickly fills up with water. While this challenge not only tests how they react under pressure as well as their survival skills, the ultimate lesson they need to learn is that in order to be a Kingsman, they need to learn how to work as a team. After each test, someone is dropped from the program and as the film progresses, so does the degree of difficulty of their challenges. While their teamwork is tested time and again, other aspects of being a spy are tested as well: how they act under duress, can they pull the trigger when they need to, can they overcome their most basic fears. While in some instances the results of the trials are a little predictable, they’re still fun and intense nonetheless.
Should you find yourself watching Kingsman this weekend, just know this, you’re going to see a very fun, action-oriented, smart, and hilarious spy movie. Just the cheekiness of the characters had me laughing and fully invested. I guess that’s what I appreciated most about the film, the characters are all very well written and very well spoken. Never at any point did I think the film went over the top. While a lot of the situations in the film are unbelievable that isn’t the point. It’s not realistic, it’s fun. We have Daniel Craig and the new James Bond if we want a “real” and “gritty” spy movie. For a fun movie that pokes fun at the spy genre, we have Kingsman.
Cinematic Scene: Are we going to fight?
“Cinematic Scene” is an effort to bring to light some of the more technically creative and/or emotionally charged scenes in the film. This more technical analysis of the film lives at the end of each review as a way to discuss these noteworthy scenes. Whether it’s fancy camera work, brilliant use of special effects, or heart wrenching acting; I will pick one notable scene from the film that you should pay attention to.
What really sets the tone for the film is this scene where Galahad dispatches a group of thugs in a pub who have been tormenting Eggsy. If you’ve seen the trailer then you know which scene I’m referring to. It’s the one where Colin Firth flips a switch and takes down this group of thugs. The scene is very well choreographed to be sure, but the editing and the way the camera moves around the room to follow the action really keeps you in the moment and gives the impression that Galahad’s actions are as equally calculated as the camera movements. Yes, we know from the onset Galahad is going to take care of them–it’s the fight sequence itself and the way Galahad weaves through the fight that make the scene mesmerizing to watch.
Kingsman: The Secret Service is now playing in theaters everywhere.
4.5/5 stars // rated R // 2hr 9min