‘Kingsman: The Secret Service,’ the newest film by writer-director Matthew Vaughn, is available now for rental after a successful theatrical release earlier this year. It’s an overly violent, darkly comic send-up of the James Bond spy genre based on comic-book writer Mark Millar’s ‘The Secret Service,’ a decidedly adult comic book collaboration between the prolific author (‘Kick-Ass’, ‘Wanted’, ‘The Ultimates’, ‘Civil War’) and artist Dave Gibbons (‘Watchmen’). Fans of the comic and Millar’s output in general will be satisfied with the playful, yet underlying nasty tone of the movie, as it doesn’t stray far from the source material and retains the snarky bite of much of Millar’s past and current work.
Genre fans have seen much of this before, and done better, both from a comic and film perspective, but there is plenty here to enjoy as guilty pleasure. The story follows Eggsy (Taron Egerton), basically a hood with heart, as he gets recruited by a clandestine group, the Kingsmen, who secretly save London, and humanity in general, on the regular with no fanfare nor recognition. This is the ‘young-rebel-recruit-goes-through-training-proving-everyone-wrong’ kind of story played out over countless times (‘Men in Black’, ‘X-Men’, etc.). What is new and exciting here is that Egerton shows promise and appeal, especially when he is being a wise-ass, and his mentor is the decidedly unexpected bad-ass, Harry Hart / Galahad, Colin Firth playing both with and against type at the same time. It is a blast to see Firth, usually found in period dramas and British romantic comedies, unleashing focused mayhem as a ‘gentleman spy.’ He is motivated to pay back the sacrificial action of Eggsy’s father by ushering his aimless, grown son through the rigors of the program, but this motivation is the least convincing portion of this story – the overlying conflict between the 99 and 1 percent is weakly handled here.
This is a problem as it is a driving force behind the far-fetched scheme of the villain portrayed by Samuel L. Jackson, also playing against type as a blood-averse, geeky, tech-billionaire, with a grating lisp. Purposely acting in caricature, Jackson comes across as more annoying than menacing, his scheme ridiculous and overly complicated – the idea of a rage-inducing signal piped through humanity’s ubiquitous electronic devices could have been an interesting indictment on tech-obsessed culture, but is used here for over-the-top, purposely silly, violent displays (particularly in the over-extended finale). For a villainous highlight, the film-makers have added the scissor-blade legged henchwoman Gazelle, (Sofia Boutella, a talented dancer and budding actress), a welcome new colorful addition to the story that wasn’t present in the original source material.
‘Kingsman’ wants to be an over-the-top send-up / homage to all things Bond, at which it basically succeeds, but the end result is a mixed-bag of clever asides / invigorating action sequences and grating character nuances / excessive, purpose-less mayhem. A temporary diversion at best . . .
Directed By: Matthew Vaughn
Written By: Jane Goldman & Matthew Vaughn
Running Time: 129 min.
* * 1/2 (out of 4 stars) -or- B-