Title: Kingsman: The Secret Service
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Writers: Jane Goldman & Matthew Vaughn (Based on The Secret Service by Mark Millar & Dave Gibbons)
Distributed By: 20th Century Fox
Starring: Colin Firth, Taron Egerton, Samuel L. Jackson, Mark Strong, Michael Caine, Sophie Cookson, Sofia Boutella, Mark Hamill, Samantha Womack, Jack Davenport
Release Date: February 13, 2015
When creating the comic book, The Secret Service, Mark Millar expressed his disdain for the for the Daniel Craig reboot of the James Bond films, stating that he didn’t like seeing a humanized Bond that cried, and longed for a return to the campy, silly days of Roger Moore. So, with that in mind you can kind of figure out what to expect from the comic: campy, silly, stupid fun full of crass sex jokes and ridiculous action. And with the reunion of director Matthew Vaughn and Mark Millar, who last got together for Kick-Ass, it seems all but certain the movie version of The Secret Service will deliver more of the same.
So, the plot is simple old-school cheesy spy action flick fare. Super-rich evil bad guy devises a way to essentially take over the world and kill billions of people while posing as a well-intentioned philanthropist and it’s up to our suave debonair British super spies to defeat him. If you’ve seen a James Bond movie, you can easily guess how this movie plays out. This isn’t to say it’s unoriginal or uninspired, as it’s clearly meant to be a blatant parody and homage to those films.
There are lots of other nods to the spy genre peppered throughout this movie as well. For example, despite it leaning rather heavily on the Bond series, Harry Hart (Firth) is very clearly inspired by John Steed of the British Spy series The Avengers, complete with gadget-filled umbrella. So, the parts that are clichéd and predictable, that are directly inspired by the tropes of the old-school spy genre are forgivable. However, the parts that are clichéd and predictable, that aren’t inspired by anything prior, which is to say almost everything else the film has to offer, are most definitely not forgivable.
The plot and motivations for our main character Eggsy (Egerton) are entirely overused. His dad, who was also a spy, was killed. He’s the tough street kid with a heart of gold. He’s the supposedly bad egg that doesn’t gel with his fellow recruits who all think they’re better than him. And of course, the only female spy in the bunch sides with him, because every Steed needs a Mrs. Peel. It all feels very by the numbers, as if you’ve seen this all before, and that’s because you have. The only things that feel fresh are the rather well-done and crazy over the top action scenes. Each and every action scene is a hyper-kinetic insanity-filled blast of over the top violence that manages to be quite surprisingly fun.
Despite how much fun the crazy action scenes are, they are not without fault. You know when you’re told a joke and it gets a good laugh, but then they keep the joke going until it’s worn out its welcome and just been run into the ground? That’s how this reviewer felt about a lot of this movie, specifically two major action scenes and a particular joke (more on them both in a bit). Despite the two major scenes in question going on for longer than they needed to, they were excellent to behold. The choreography was top-notch and the cinematography was outstanding, utilizing shaky-cam techniques when the moment called for it, steady medium shots that put the action on full display and a few neat camera tricks where the image would twist and spin to track the flips and falls of the characters.
The action-packed centerpiece of the movie involves this scene where Harry Hart goes to a church in Kentucky and finds that it’s full of the absolute worst hate-mongering, homophobic, conspiracy theorist nut-job stereotypes you could ever imagine. During this scene, the dastardly villain Valentine (Jackson) tests his evil plan to turn the denizens of the world into ravenous, murderers who would just as soon kill their own baby as look at it. When this happens Harry Hart and the deplorable congregation engage in a blood-soaked murder-fest, set to the rockin’ tunes of Lynard Skynard’s “Free Bird”. Not only was I offended by the horrible stereotypes presented, but I honestly found myself getting bored by the end of it all. All the cool choreography in the world can’t hold my interest if I can feel my brain going numb as kill after kill after kill sinks into monotonous repetition.
There is a moment during the climax where Eggsy takes on about a hundred white-clad henchmen who in perfect stormtrooper fashion can’t hit him as he runs right at them in a straight line down a narrow corridor. Now, that’s not actually the moment I have a grievance with, because that is perfectly in keeping with a lot of the more moronic tropes this movie pays homage to. What does bother me is the scene right after this ludicrous shooting gallery wherein, without too many details, the audience is presented with humans turning into a brightly festive fireworks display in super slow-motion, all set to “Pomp and Circumstance”. If that sounds like something you’d enjoy, then this third act hilarity is all for you. I found it entirely too outlandishly cartoonish and it did nothing but detract from the film in my eyes.
Another moment I take umbrage with is Eggsy’s final test to become a super spy. His test requires him to take an innocent life to prove his steadfast loyalty to the cause. But if the cause is being a superheroic super spy that protects innocent lives at all costs, wouldn’t it stand to reason that real success would be calling them on their bluff and refusing the kill? Turns out, no and Eggsy fails and is kicked out only to come back later on and save the day anyway. The message here just seemed very contradictory to the rest of the film which continuously praises the selflessness of Eggsy’s dead spy dad, who died specifically to protect the lives of everyone around him.
My final criticism is in regard to the films final joke. Our hero Eggsy is continuing his assault on Valentine’s fortress when he comes across a blonde buxom princess being held in the dungeon. He jokingly says that if he rescues her, she’ll have to repay him with a kiss. The exchange quickly escalates from kiss to anal sex. The joke continues with Eggsy frantically trying to get into her prison cell. Once the cell door opens we see that her cell is decorated like a 70s love shack replete with red velvet pillows. The “pay-off” for the joke is a close-up shot of the princess’ bare ass and a quick glimpse at her vagina. It’s all unnecessary and frankly kills any hope the joke had for humor.
Having said all of that, I enjoyed the rest of the film quite a bit. It’s level of self-referential love for the spy movies of yesteryear help elevate everything else about the movie with a nostalgia-driven overabundance of savvy charm.
A wonderful example of this comes by way of the all-too-clichéd meeting between the suave super-spy Harry Hart and the megalomaniacal super-villain Valentine. They have dinner together, doing that “I know you know who I am but I won’t kill you now” dance that spy movies do so well. They discuss they’re love of the old campy spy movies and childhood dreams of living out their fantasies of being the people they admired on the screen. Our amusing villain proclaims his childhood longing to be the hero, and our dashing hero explains that he always wanted to be a villain. And in the coldest “I will kill you” tone of voice, the villainous Valentine somberly states: “What a shame we both had to grow up”. It’s my absolute favorite scene of the film.
Despite annoyances, which completely drag the film down, it does have some great dialogue and amazing action scenes, and is most importantly very fun when not screwing it up with moments that overstay their welcome.
Kingsmen is the straight-up love-child of 60s/70s action-spy movies and crass exploitation movies, with modern movie production values. If that sounds like your cup of tea, then you’ll be right at home with this flick. Otherwise, you may want to steer clear. When it gets the cheesy spy movie charm right, it gets it very right. But the However, the frequent interjection of exploitation-movie style cheekiness really brings down the movie as a whole in the eyes of this reviewer. I’d say Kingsman: The Secret Service earns a solid 7 exploding heads out of 10.