It's difficult making a spy movie parody that doesn't give in to full on slapstick. The reason being that James Bond, the subject and inspiration for just about every spy movie ever made, is itself extremely tongue-in-cheek when it comes to its special mix of humor, action and romance. Much like Bond's legendary martini, all the measurements must be just right, then shaken and stirred with only the best of ingredients or else the whole thing just falls flat. Kingsman: The Secret Service, the latest in a long line of spy parodies, is one of the few films to get that mixture just right and the results are potent. Read the full review after the break.
Review Vital Stats:
Projector Type: Digital 2D
Film Rating: R
Film Runtime: 2 hr 8 min
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Release Date: February 13, 2015
Loves: Stardust, Kick-Ass, Samuel L. Jackson
Likes: X-Men First Class, Colin Firth, Rated R action/comedies
Neutral: I want a sequel but there is no way it would be this good
Get ready: For all the Kingsman imitators we will likely get now
Like all proper entries into this sub-genre of action/comedy film, we have the spies and the villains. Eschewing the more commonplace MI6 title for the must more flavorful Kingsman moniker, these spies aren't just about thwarting evildoers who threaten the free world, they are also quite dapper gentlemen who are as skilled with their manners as they are with their combat umbrellas. As for the villains, aside from cooking up yet another scheme to dominate (or in this case liberate) the world, they to kick stereotypes to the curb and prove that you don't have to be inherently evil to be bad, just misunderstood.
The story of Kingsman isn't really all that important. Now that's not to say it is bad because that couldn't be further from the truth. The fact of the matter is the stories never matter in these types of films because they are almost always incidental to the plot points and their actions. That isn't to knock the film for sharing these qualities with its many influences, it's just a part of the deal when one endeavors to make a spy movie, parody or not. No matter what you do, you either make a movie about spies versus villains and get something like Kingsman which lovingly embraces the genre and all its baggage or you don't and you get something like the Get Smart movie.
What always matters however is the execution and that is where director Mathew Vaughn's film truly shines. It takes a lot to standout in this genre, ingenuity and imagination are usually in short supply where lazy references and poor imitation rules the day. But Kingsman takes a tried and trued formula and puts its own unique spin on it. Much like he did with his under appreciated fantasy flick Stardust and his superhero flick Kick-Ass, Vaughn's unique eye for action and comedy come to play in a number of surprising ways throughout the course of Kingsman and as always it all starts and ends with the casting.
Subverting all expectations, casting Oscar winning actor Colin Firth in the role of a near unstoppable secret agent killing machine is a big reason as to why the film works at all. If someone had been cast that we associate with that sort of role like Christian Bale or Liam Neeson we would instinctively associate the character their iconic persona's which would severely undermine everything that makes the character unique and cool. That moment in the bar where he teaches some poor thugs a thing or two about manners would only work with an actor of Firth's pedigree in the role.
Taron Egerton is someone who also subverts our expectations simply because he hasn't been in anything of this caliber before. Having no expectations of someone can be just as effective if not more so and that is certainly the case for Egerton who plays Firth's nimble understudy. His transformation from punk kid into a full blown gentleman spy is one of the film's many magic tricks as you don't even realize the transformation has even occurred until the moment he steps off that plane and decimates a legion of well armed soldiers with nothing more than his umbrella. Be prepared to see Egerton in a lot more after this.
The other major actor that must be mentioned is probably the one person who actually seems like a stereotypical choice for the role he was given and that man is none other than Samuel L. Jackson. Jackson has proven himself to be quite the chameleon over the years though with roles in such films a Django Unchained and Black Snake Moan where the actor not only plays against type but completely destroys it. His Richmond Valentine is not the evil tyrant you might expect. He doesn't whip out slang or even one slip of a motherf*****. His neurosis over blood, a comical lisp and a penchant for McDonald's make him one of the more unique villains in any film in a long time which compliments Firth's out of the box interpretation of a spy with manners perfectly.
While the film has a lot of comedy and a brilliant sense of humor about itself, it also takes itself serious enough to make what is happening actually matter. One could make the argument that Kingsman has a split personality when it comes to its action and comedy elements and they would be right as the tone of the film does tend to dance all over the place. But under Vaughn's expert direction it never goes full tilt in any one direction and a sort of perfect harmony is struck that bounces our emotional state around like a ping pong ball but always remembers to keep us in the game.
North American action filmmakers have been put to task in the past few years with directors like Gareth Evans and his Raid films upping the ante to almost impossible heights. Once again though Vaughn proves more than capable when it comes to the action beats of the film and even outdoes his former benchmark X-Men: First Class with some of the most exhilarating-holy-crap-my-pants moments of any studio filmmaker in years. There are things Vaughn commits to the screen here that you have never seen before and that itself is quite the feat let alone the fact that he has set a new benchmark for comic action films going forward.
Anyone who thought the buck stopped with the Raid's amazing action set pieces is in for a rude awakening. The scene in the church will be talked about for years to come as its sudden violent outburst is only matched by the technical prowess used to capture its controlled chaos. While that scene would likely be any other film's finale, it is just the crescendo here as even more amazing action sequences lie ahead. As much as everyone praised the action in Zack Snyder's 300, this is ten times more impressive and overall more exciting in its overt brutality. Intrigued yet? Good, you should be.
Kingsman is that sort of film that sneaks up on you as you watch it and makes you fall in love with it without ever even knowing it has succeeded until days later when you just can't stop thinking about it. This isn't high art filmmaking, this is hyper kinetic filmmaking, this is the stuff that everyone loves but no one ever awards. This is the beginning of a new franchise that unlike other spy movie parodies/imitators can happily coexist with the James Bond's of the world. It doesn't need to rely on making jabs at the genre and its cliches because it is making up its own cliches and setting new standards as it goes. Kingsman: The Secret Service is fresh, invigorating and exciting filmmaking from a director who shows no signs of slowing down.
Action spy movies are already hard to get right, let alone do something different than its many peers. But when you add comedy into it and some unproven actors (for the genre) and it is even more of a gamble. That gamble has paid off in spades though as Matthew Vaughn has crafted one helluva exciting action comedy movie that is firmly rooted in the spy movie genre but not afraid of making its own rules instead of simply copying what others have done. This is an early contender for the top films of the year and by a large margin easily in the top five. This is why we go to the movies folks.