‘Kingsman’ Kills (Mostly)

by Trevan McGee on February 13, 2015

in Print Reviews,Reviews

[Rating: Minor Rock Fist Up]

Kingsman: The Secret Service is the latest from director/co-writer Matthew Vaughn, who almost came to directing by accident after his friend Guy Ritchie pulled out of Layer Cake at the last minute. In his time since directing that British gangster movie, he’s taken on three literary adaptations with largely successful results.

Stardust was a whimsical fantasy film that managed to capture the tone and quality of the Neil Gaiman novel. Kick-Ass was a silly, disposable male fantasy that managed to find something to say amidst the layers of machismo and revenge fantasy typical of a Mark Millar original. X-Men: First Class, still possibly his best, featured an all-star cast and managed to add some actual depth and stakes to the timid and scattershot X-Men franchise.

Now, Vaughn is facing his fourth adaptation and the results are less than surprising. Kingsman is a fun, absurd spy movie that embraces many of the genre’s tropes while at the same time bending a few of them and breaking a few more. Like Kick-Ass, Kingsman is based on a comic book by Mark Millar, and naturally features many of the same themes the author has been working with for some time now. Taron Egerton plays “Eggsy,” a guy on the wrong side of the tracks, who grew up without a father and wants more from his life than he’s getting. (Pretty much the same setup as Millar’s Wanted.)

As it turns out, Eggsy’s father was part of a secret espionage ring known as Kingsman, who work for no single government and basically exist to stop major terrorist plots the governments of the developed world aren’t even aware of. It isn’t long before Eggsy is face-to-face with Galahad, played by the always excellent Colin Firth, a Kingsman agent who wants to see Eggsy become the next member in their organization. There’s a world-threatening plot with a lisping Samuel L. Jackson at the center, and the obligatory underdog/training sequences, but we’ll save the plot summary for Wikipedia.

With a plot like this, there’s a lot of ways the story could go wrong. Thankfully, Vaughn manages to avoid most of the traps. Kingsman isn’t a reheated Wanted. It’s also not a piece of hyped-up revenge fantasy like the Kick-Ass comic. What it ends up being is a remarkably well made, R-rated spy movie that toes the line between spoof and serious.

Vaughn has always had an inventive take on action sequences, but he outdoes himself during a brawl in a Southern church. The sequence is even more impressive, considering it’s Firth doing the fighting. Kingsman benefits from its own dark sense of humor, which occurs early during a home invasion that goes wrong and then gets worse and culminates at the movie’s climax, which features “Pomp And Circumstance” in one of the most unique ways it’s ever been used.

There are several times when Kingsman disappoints. Barring Mark Strong, a staple of Vaughn’s movies, the supporting cast is largely wasted or forgettable. The Kingsman agents are far from a diverse group of agents, considering the organization is entirely made up of white males, and that casting choice is emphasized even more by the fact that the only two ethnic minority characters in the entire film are the antagonists. Vaughn manages to avoid much of Millar’s macho, over-compensating humor, but Eggsy’s final sequence before the credits pretty much makes up for it.

But when Kingsman works, it works incredibly well. At it’s best, it’s a fun, self-aware spy movie with some fantastic action sequences. At it’s worst, it’s a victorious agent eagerly running down a hallway to have anal sex with a foreign dignitary.

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