As the James Bond franchise realigned itself with more serious sensibilities after the woeful Die Another Day, the spy genre has been lacking in a slightly more fun take on espionage in recent years. Enter Kingsman: The Secret Service, a shockingly bloody and silly fish-out-of-water tale.
The root of the story is something we’ve seen many times before – a wayward youth is put through his paces by someone who believes he has potential, despite being seen as a hopeless case by everyone else. In Kingsman, the teenager in question is Eggsy (Taron Egerton), a former champion gymnast who is on the road to a life of petty crime, gangs, and the critical mass of Adidas gear that comes with that. Little does he know, however, is that when he calls a mysterious phone number from the police station, he would be greeted by Harry Hart (Colin Firth), an eloquent, tuxedo-wearing, umbrella-that-doubles-as-a-gun toting man who offers him a place in a secret espionage agency – Kingsman. Amongst a band of much posher trainees and a prestigious history, Eggsy is the odd one out, but Harry believes that he is “Kingsman material”. After a myriad of tests (including a ‘seducing the enemy’ scene that I wish lasted longer), Eggsy is thrown headfirst into Kingsman with his first mission – to stop radical environmentalist and tech-billionaire Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson) from taking over the world.
Valentine’s method of world domination is too interesting to spoil here, but I will say one thing – it’s simultaneously ridiculous and scarily plausible, with the body count piling up in a mind-blowingly (*wink wink*) bloody fashion in a matter of minutes. Kingsman is directed by action veteran Matthew Vaughn, who most famously helmed Kick-Ass, where an 11 year old famously fires off enough swear words to rival the stars of The Wolf of Wall Street and twirls a knife while being quizzed by her father on weapons, so it’s no surprise that countless limbs are detached in swift close up, bodies are slices in half by razor-sharp legs, and blood flows like tomato sauce. Each large action scene plays like a video game. Combined with the innate silliness of the whole affair, where James Bond’s “shaken, not stirred” mentality is turned up to 11 before getting thrown on its head, it’s a lot of fun, and most of the comedy lands, thanks to the performances from the leads (Egerton, Firth, Jackson, and Mark Strong). However, by the last 20 minutes it gets somewhat exhausting, having lost the kinetic energy and thrills of the first hour. While the action of the third act makes for some crazy situations that more than entertain, Kingsman starts to feel robotic and over-directed, showing it’s two hour length.
The verdict: A nice change of pace in the espionage genre after James Bond got serious in the last ten years, Kingsman is sharply funny and subversive, with plenty of humour and violence that most studio movies nowadays would run away from. Like the video game cases say, however, it’s best played in moderation.