Matthew Vaughn Is Back In Kick-Ass Form With Kingsman: The Secret Service [Review]


After last week’s disaster Jupiter Ascending, I needed to watch something good. Something that goes for the same campy, glorious fun that Jupiter tried for with the space opera genre, but one that doesn’t get too bogged down in its own bullcrap. Something that’s fun. Something with fight scenes. Something with a Mighty Morphin Power Rangers homage*. Thanks, Kingsman: The Secret Service. You delivered.

*The scene I’m thinking of–you’ll know it when you see it–probably isn’t an intentional homage, but I like the idea of a sinister cabal of directors working under the table to get MMPR references into their movies. Let me have this.

Spoilers follow…

At first, Kingsman is very Men in Black. A group of superspies known as Kingsmen has an opening, and each current member gets to nominate one person to complete for the vacant spot. Henry Hart (Colin Firth), alias Galahad, chooses Eggsy, a rough ‘n’ tumble lad from a bad neighborhood with a history of petty crime.  Like Men in Black‘s Jay, Eggsy finds himself competing against more traditional candidates (military types in MiB, prep school snobs in Kingsman) and eventually uses his street smarts to prove his worth. You almost expect Eggsy to tell Henry that the difference between the two of them is that Eggsy makes bespoke suits look good.

The biggest similarity, though, is between Kingsman and Kick-Ass, both directed by Vaughn and based on a comic book co-created by Mark Millar. Both do a bit of wink-wink-nod-nodding toward the idea that they’re a grittier, more “real-life” version of their genre of choice–superhero movies for Kick-Ass, James Bond-ian spy thrillers for Kingsman–while also wholeheartedly embracing some of their source material’s inherent ridiculousness. You will never find, for example, a more over-the-top, unlikely to succeed, just plain bonkers scheme than the one evil mastermind Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson), without a doubt the movie’s best character, cooks up in Kingsman.

At one point, Hart tells Valentine that that he doesn’t like how serious spy movies have become, preferring instead the lighter, campier touch of the classics. Eggie, on the other hand, is a “24” fan, naming his dog after Jack Bauer. Kingsman deftly combines the two approaches to the genre, blurring the line between good and evil the way modern spy movies do (one of the main good guys does some truly awful sh*t, and Valentine, for all that he’s loco bonkers crazy, doesn’t fit the standard spy movie mold of “snarling fascist/Communist wannabe dictator”) while saying “No, thanks” to the broodiness that most modern antiheroes (even Bond, as of late) get saddled with.

Kingsman is gleefully violent, bordering on nihilistic, and at times even tiptoeing into sociopathic territory, as in a scene involving a Westboro Baptist Church standin. Violence commmitted by good guys for good reasons, violence committed by good guys for bad reasons, violence committed by bad guys for bad reasons, violence committed by bad guys for good reasons–it’s all here, and Kingsman loves all of it, shooting it in a zippy, kinetic style that sometimes mimics a first-person shooter video game. Roger Ebert, who famously called Kick-Assmorally reprehensible,” is frowning down from heaven. I thought it was a hell of a good time, and I didn’t even like Kick-Ass that much. (The violence didn’t get to me, but the glossed-over child abuse did. That’s another story for another time.)

Kingsman is a ridiculously fun movie. Watching Colin Firth beat people up is a unique joy, Samuel L. Jackson plays one of the comic book adaptation genre’s most memorable villains, and Egerton is charismatic and appealing without being too obnoxiously “Look at me, look at me!” Because let’s face it, Eggsy is no one’s favorite character in a movie with Firth, Jackson, and a henchwoman with knives for legs. Speaking of the henchwoman, Gazelle, played by Algerian actresss/dancer Sofia Boutella: She and Hammer Girl from The Raid 2 need to get their own sitcom or buddy cop comedy. I could watch them chop people up until I die.

The only part that I really didn’t like was a joke near the end that I thought to be in poor taste. You can argue that “in poor taste” doesn’t have much meaning in this movie given some of the other stuff that happens, but screw it, I still thought it was gross.


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