Kingsman: The Secret Service is a spectacle of cartoon violence and irreverent humor; it’s exactly the sort of wildly entertaining experience that we go to the movies for. This cheeky send-up of classic James Bond films cements director Matthew Vaughn’s reputation as one of the most inventive filmmakers working today, and one with a gift for subverting popular genres to refreshing effect.
I could quickly run through the plot of Kingsman, but nothing really prepares you for the anything-goes ingenuity that Vaughn brings to this clever pastiche of spy films. Newcomer Taron Egerton plays Eggsy, a street-smart petty criminal who’s taken under the wing of debonair agent Harry Hart (Colin Firth) and inducted into a super-secret organization of spies known as Kingsman, after the Savile Roy tailor shop that serves as the front to their headquarters. After proving his mettle against a batch of upper class fellow trainees and impressing Kingsman head Arthur (Michael Caine), Eggsy finds himself assigned to his first major mission, where he must help save the world from a nefarious plot by evil billionaire Richmond Valentine (a lisping Samuel L Jackson).
Never a full-on spoof like the Austin Powers or the Johnny English films, Kingsman is very self-aware of the spy movie clichés it plays with. So along with the fast cars, beautiful women, shaken martinis and nifty gadgets, there are the pithy one-liners, double entendres, and winking references to other spies like James Bond and Jason Bourne, including one genius meta scene in which Firth and Jackson’s characters discuss the merits of Bond movies.
Within this set-up, Vaughn choreographs some audacious, thrillingly violent set pieces that are both shocking and hilarious. A scene in which Firth’s character stabs and slices an entire congregation in a church is at once grotesque and oddly entertaining. The same may be said for the sight of a knocked-out tooth flying across the screen in slow motion. My favorite bits, though, involved Gazelle (Sofia Boutella), the villain’s aptly named right-hand girl, whose Pistorius-style prosthetic legs are fitted with razor-sharp blades that she employs to cut her enemies in half.
There’s a lot going on in the film, but Vaughn nicely stitches the multiple narratives together into a cohesive whole, even if the chief conceit – of Valentine plotting to end the human race with lethal SIM cards installed in their mobile phones – is completely bonkers even by the film’s own standards. As he did with superheroes in Kick-Ass and X-Men: First Class, Vaughn injects some much-needed fun into a genre that had become increasingly predictable.
Plus he turns Oscar-winning, Darcy-embodying Colin Firth into a lean, mean fighting machine, and gives us a charismatic young star in Egerton who confidently holds his own against a cast of pros. That’s plenty to enjoy in one film.
I’m going with three-and-a-half out of five for Kingsman: The Secret Service. It’s an unstoppable, gleefully violent comedy that delivers a rollicking good time.