“Kingsman: The Secret Service” (2014): James Bond Meets Ender’s Game (Review)

When did February become a month for good releases? Last year, The Lego Movie and The Grand Budapest Hotel came out in the same weekend in the beginning of February and ended up being two of the best films of the year (I’ll post the final list up eventually, I promise). This year…okay, fine Jupiter Ascending soiled itself and 50 Shades of Grey is going to be…50 Shades of Grey.

Thankfully, we have the British to supply us with our early year quality entertainment for now. There’s Paddington and now there’s this.

Kingsman: The Secret Service is probably the most British film I’ve seen since The King’s Speech, and appropriately enough it also stars Colin Firth. It oozes Britishisms like a tea kettle and doesn’t tone any of them down for American audiences. You could have Rowan Atkinson, Laurence Olivier, Maggie Smith, and Yahtzee Croshaw on a double-decker bus, snacking on biscuits and waxing nostalgic about their trips through the English countryside, and you’re still unlikely to get more British than this.

Don’t get me wrong, I mean that in a good way. I realize I just listed off a bunch of British stereotypes (I’m going somewhere with this) but Kingsman isn’t a poser. Its tongue is nestled comfortably in its cheek for the full two hour run, but it’s an outlandish R-rated espionage action movie for kids. It sets the tone for itself perfectly, opening to the theme of a classic 80’s jam while rubble blowing off buildings bounces into the title credits. From there, it’s all about how great the British are at doing all the things the British are best known for.

The stereotypes are arguably the film’s strongest suit. Kingsman wears them on its top hat like a badge of honor and then looks at you as if to say, “c’mon, you know you wish you were us.” And it’s got more than a few stereotypes to throw back at us crazy Americans. It even gets away with the lead character’s name being Eggsy. And don’t think for a second that this film is too proud to fun of his name the way Blazing Saddles did to Hedley Lamarr.

Our story entails a kid of lower class single family upbringing (Taron Edgerton) joining a wealthy spy agency of which his deceased father was once a member. He competes in a class for the top spot, just in time to stop a billionaire supervillain and his diabolical left-winged mad genius plot.

Now you’re probably thinking that this kid is screaming daddy issues and that the villain will tie back in some way to his father’s death. Nope! This movie’s got way better tricks up its red, white, and blue imperial sleeves.

Colin Firth takes young Eggsy under his wing in training while investigating the bad guy. He’s lacking a character arc and when he’s not around the film keeps moving, but he’s the star of every scene he’s in and he slips into the slick action star shoes like he’s worn them forever. There’s really nothing like watching an Oscar winning actor pulling off inhuman stunts and brutal acts of violence with a gleeful camera behind him. You’ll know it when you see it.

Samuel Jackson drives most of this story as the Mark Zuckerberg/Steve Jobs tech geek company billionaire with a lisp. On the cusp of unleashing a revolutionary piece of technology for the world, he’s working his environmentalist angles, meeting with political players, and gearing up for an epic show. Alongside him is his Oddjob/Rosa Klebb henchwoman with swords for stilettos.

Director Matthew Vaughn seems to anticipate every single moment the film could turn serious and make some kind of point, and plots comedic detours around them. It’s not like Starship Troopers operating on a plane of absurdism so high up, the dump it takes all over its source material drops like a brick. It does at one point, however, pull a resounding meta-gag a la 21 Jump Street, blaring out a message that Hollywood stop sucking all the fun out of its spy and superhero movies.

Mark Millar and Matthew Vaughn are a great duo, as shown by their last collaboration, Kick-Ass. Here, with the Anglo-American canvas, Millar’s imagination and Vaughn’s affectation, their work makes for a comic book spy movie that’s doing comic book movies and spy movies better than most others. Stiff upper lips aside, they make it look easy. This is the Spy Kids and Agent Cody Banks movie that I’d have gone crazy for if I was ten years younger. It baffles me that Millar and Vaughn are pulling off the Frank Miller/Robert Rodriguez Sin City tricks better than Miller and Rodriguez have done in recent years either together or separately.

2015 is still up in the air as far as how it’ll turn out for movies, but Kingsman is an instant popcorn classic with only a handful of problems. There’s about ten minutes of bloat that it can afford to trim during a brief flux period around the middle. Henry Jackman’s score, while very good, mostly rehashes it from X-Men: First Class. There’s one scene around the end of the third act (out of five) involving a dog that doesn’t really work because of the entire school training process.

Otherwise, Kingsman dresses well, kicks ass, takes names, and tips the hat. Check it out.

P.S.: Stay halfway through the credits.

The Good: The British, the action, the violence, the jokes, Edgerton, Firth,
The Bad: A couple wasted moments, ten minutes of bloat, and a rehashed score.
The Manners: “Are we going to stand around all day or are we going to fight?”

Overall: 8.7/10

 

 

Written By Vivek Subramanyam

Vivek is a handsome, talented, well-spoken political aficionado and part-time film critic who totally never ever writes mini-bios about himself.

Follow him on Twitter @VerverkS or check out his blog V for Verbatim.


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  • Superb review, Vivek. I remember reading on Facebook how much you loved this one. Seeing it on Monday.

  • Vivek

    Thanks, Fernando! Nice to know I’ve still got it. Have a great time!

  • I agree, upon leaving the theater the PR people asked me what I thought. I said “Fantastic! But what’s it doing hiding in mid-February, when
    it’s good enough to be a May or November release?”

    But I thought the final “dog training” test was an awesome way to choose the new Lancelot.

  • Thanks 🙂

  • Vivek

    Well I like the idea of the test as well. But given what all the previous tests looked like, it should have been clear to Eggsy (as it probably was to the audience) that nothing was ever as it seemed with the Kingsman training program.

    I don’t really know what the studio was thinking. Unless there was a post-production problem I’m not aware of (I saw the screening for this in mid-January), there was no reason not to have this in November. Not a lot of huge releases came out that month. Instead, it releases this weekend, alongside “50 Shades of Grey” and there’s no way in hell this film is going to beat that, no matter how much it probably deserves to.

  • True. But I really enjoyed both movies for vastly different reason.