Kingsman: The Secret Service

Posted: February 8, 2015 in Film reviews

Directed by Matthew Vaughn. Starring Colin Firth, Taron Egerton, Samuel L Jackson, Michael Caine and Mark Strong.

Gary “Eggsy” Unwin(Egerton) is a troubled young man living on a council estate in London with his mother and step father, a violent criminal who treats Eggsy and his mum like dirt. Despite being a bright kid he did poorly at school, and though he joined the marines he quit half way through his training. Now he spends his days hanging out with his friends and getting in trouble with the police. After one particular brush with the law he finds himself arrested and facing the prospect of jail. His only chance of escape relies on a medal he was given by a mysterious man when he was a child, and just after his father, who he thinks was just a solider, died.

Before you can say “Really 007…” Eggsy finds he’s been freed, courtesy of Harry Hart (Firth) the man who gave him the medal as a child and a gentleman spy working for an organisation known as Kingsman. Working behind the front of a Saville row tailors, Kingsman was set up after World War 1 and is affiliated to no government. Harry thinks Eggsy has what it takes to be a Kingsman, much as his father did, but when he arrives for training Eggsy finds himself surrounded by fellow potential Kingsman who had a better upbringing, better education, and who, in some instances, look down their nose at the working class boy they feel is inferior.

Whilst Eggsy struggles to get through the Kingsman selection process, Harry begins investigating eccentric billionaire Richmond Valentine (Jackson) who may or may not be involved in a series of high profile kidnappings, and who may or may not be a megalomaniac out to destroy the world.

Can Eggsy prove himself worthy of Harry’s belief in him, and even if he can, can the Kingsman agents prevail against Valentine and his lethal henchwoman?

Since Sean Connery first uttered the immortal line “My name is Bond, James Bond” film and TV have fallen over themselves to come up with a succession of spy heroes, some have been deadly serious, but many had been comedic; from The Man from UNCLE to Get Smart, Matt Helm to Derek Flint, from Austin Powers to Jason Bourne the one thing they all share, to a greater or lesser degree, is a molecule or two of 007 in their DNA, and Kingsman is no exception.

But, this is no parody like Austin Powers, there’s no sly winking at the audience here, nor is it a deadly serious, gritty affair ala Jason Bourne, instead what we have is a curious mix of sixties spy cool— riffing on The Avengers (the John Steed rather than the Marvel version) The Man from UNCLE (UNCLE also operated out of a tailor’s shop) and Harry Palmer (if only in the glasses and the presence of Caine)—Roger Moore era ridiculousness (and I mean that as a compliment)—and a very modern attitude to foul language and violence in the Kick Ass vein.

What’s amazing is how well these disparate elements fit together. Perhaps it comes down to something as simple as the fact that this is a film that respects its heritage. It isn’t embarrassed to channel all those old time spies, doesn’t feel the need to apologise, to cast a knowing glance at the audience, or to play down the more ridiculous elements in favour of gritty realism. Instead this is a film that feels comfortable in its own skin, and even if it just stray close to the edge at times its confidence in itself just about stops it from driving off a cliff.

This is a film that harks back to an era when, as Harry Hart intimates, spy films were more fun.

And at the heart of what makes the film succeed are a host of great performances. Starting with Colin Firth. Forget Mr Darcy, forget the monarch with a speech impediment, even forget Bridget Jones’ Mark Darcy and his brilliantly rubbish fighting skills, because Harry Hart is lethal with a capital L. In unarmed combat, with a gun, and most especially with an umbrella. He might be 10% Bond, he might be 10% Harry Palmer, but on the whole, more than anything, he’s John Steed, dashing, debonair, polite, honourable and quite possibly the deadliest man alive, and Firth plays every element wonderfully, he has Harry’s urbane honour down to a tee, and he utterly convinces in every fight scene, most especially the bit in the church…trust me when I say, whatever you think is going to happen in the church, be ready to be surprised! Firth is brilliant, and if you offered me a whole series of Harry Hart films right now I’d bite your hand off.

Coming close to stealing the show is relative newcomer Egerton who brings a brash cheekiness to his role as Eggsy, and in many ways the film hangs on how convinced you are by his transformation from baseball cap wearing lout to bespoke suited gentleman spy. Personally I think he’s great, and there’s more than a hint of a very young Roger Moore about him, and when he’s in full on spy mode there’s a quite definite twinkle in his eye.

Jackson paints his villain with fairly broad brushstrokes, but there is more to his portrayal than just a lisp, similarly Caine just turns up and plays Michael Caine, but as I said in my review of Interstellar, he does is so well! Plus he does get to cut loose a bit in his final scene. I’d give special mention to Mark Strong as well, playing the Kingsman equivalent of Q, plus it’s nice to see Jack Davenport get to be James Bond…if only for five minutes, and it’s always great to see Mark Hamill!

One of the films failings is in its portrayal of women. Samantha Womack as Eggsy’s mum does her best, but can’t rise much above portraying a victim and giving Eggsy someone back home to fight for to. Sophie Cookson as fellow potential Kingsman Roxy, and Sofia Boutella as Valentine’s lethal blade-legged henchwoman Gazelle, both do well, but rarely rise above just being sidekicks.

And then there’s the Swedish princess…some have said the film makes a huge misstep in the final few minutes, and I can see their point of view. For all the bag language and violence it’s the final scenes where the film threatens to go too far, but in hindsight it strikes me that the ending does fit with the general tone of the film. As I said, for all its sixties cool, this feels very much like a 70’s era Bond film, only one taken to extremes, and frankly this is never truer than the end!

Exciting, funny, cool, violent, sweary, visually stunning in parts with more than a few wonderful set pieces, this might not be a film for everyone, but if you’re a connoisseur of all things spy, and you have no great aversion of potty mouths and cartoon violence, this is one heck of a treat.

Now if you’ll excuse me I’m off to Saville Row to get myself a bespoke suit and some exploding shoes…

  1. Mim says:

    Interesting review. I was really keen to see it, then some reviews put me off, now i’m not sure again. I suppose I should do my bit for British film and go to see it at the cinema…

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