Film Review: ‘Kingsman: The Secret Service’

'Kingsman: The Secret Service' Review: Matthew

Another young star is born as 'Kick-Ass' director Matthew Vaughn playfully delivers his latest genre update, this time refreshing the posh British spy formula.

For those who think James Bond has gotten a little too serious in his old age, “Kingsman: The Secret Service” brings the irreverence back to the British spy genre, offering a younger, streetwise variation on the 007 formula while gleefully pushing audiences’ favorite elements — sartorial taste, killer toys and cracked-out supervillains — to hyperbolic extremes. Based on Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons’ 2012 comicbook series and directed by Matthew Vaughn in much the same pop, over-the-top style as his earlier “Kick-Ass,” Fox’s franchise-ready one-off at first poses as a more teen-friendly option, before taking a hard turn into decidedly R-rated territory.

For nearly three-quarters of its running time, “Kingsman” could pass as a flip PG-13 alternative to the increasingly gritty turn the genre has taken in the wake of Jason Bourne — a fact it acknowledges outright when debonair operative Harry Hart (Colin Firth) and cuckoo billionaire Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson) talk spy-movie aesthetics. “Give me a far-fetched diabolical plot,” Jackson’s wonderfully eccentric villain says with a lisp, “like the old Bond movies.” But the film also reserves the right to go gonzo in its final stretch, and while there’s sure to be an outcry from some corners over the turning-point scene, no one can contest that the pic’s last couple of reels distinguish it from countless other spy-movie knockoffs. And let’s not forget that Vaughn effectively gave Daniel Craig a bespoke 007 audition with the slick 2004 crime caper “Layer Cake.”

Here, the helmer launches yet another British talent, Welsh actor Taron Egerton, a compact, bulldog-like actor with a square jaw and squinched-up features who goes from scallie tough to Savile Row neat over the course of the film — a “Pygmalion”-like transformation that is hardly lost on the character himself. Egerton plays Gary “Eggsy” Unwin, whose father dies in service of an organization so secret, his widow and son never realize the significance of his sacrifice, which serves as the first of several punchy setpieces in a pic that’s front-loaded with action scenes.

Ignorant of his own potential, Eggsy grows up in a grim South London housing estate, falls in with a group of good-for-nothing thugs and risks spending his remaining years behind bars. At least, that’s the way things are headed until Harry springs him from prison and offers him an alternative: to replace recently fallen agent Lancelot (Jack Davenport), who died in a violent yet admirably bloodless attempt to free a kidnapped scientist (a heavily made-up Mark Hamill, the casting of whom plays as an inside joke for fans of the original comic, wherein it’s the missing “Star Wars” star who needs rescuing). The scientist is one of many prominent figures who’ve vanished as Valentine readies his far-fetched diabolical plot.

And so, two elaborate yet extremely well-oiled mechanisms are set in motion. In the first, we get young Eggsy thrust into a high-stakes boot camp to determine which of a group of new recruits (the rest of whom are all posh prep-school types) is worthy of becoming the next Kingsman. At the same time, Valentine moves forward with his plan to distribute free SIM cards programmed to trigger an aggressive killing frenzy worldwide, thereby solving the climate-change crisis by eradicating all but a hand-picked elite.

Class plays a key role in “Kingsman,” which hinges on the fantasy that a kid from the projects could assimilate into London’s most exclusive circles. Hidden behind a suit-shop storefront on Savile Row, Kingsman HQ are accessed through a series of “Get Smart”-style secret doors and tunnels, while the group itself is presided over by an old blue blood played by Michael Caine. But these elite types have a critical weakness: They believe their own superiority, which makes them no better than Valentine in the end. (In one throwaway gag, Jackson is seen pitching his plan at the White House to a man clearly intended to be President Obama.)

Together with longtime screenwriting partner Jane Goldman, Vaughn milks these class differences for maximum amusement throughout, embracing the notion that “Kingsman” is as much a comedy as it is an action movie — just not in the corny, quippy way that mid-career Bond used to be. It’s the sort of movie where the world’s most cultured men prefer to eat McDonald’s behind closed doors, while its streetwise protagonist boasts a far snobbier martini recipe than Bond ever did. Few of the year’s films have been so openly covetous of material possessions, which sits oddly with the movie’s open resentment of extreme wealth.

After all, Vaughn belongs to that school of directing whose glossy, hyper-polished pics look almost like feature-length commercials, where every outfit and prop is potentially for sale (the suits, designed by Arianne Phillips, will soon be made available for online purchase via Mr Porter). But he also kicked off his career producing for Guy Ritchie, whose dynamic, rough-and-tumble attitude has clearly been a key influence on his approach, most obvious in a virtuoso pub altercation where the camera varies speeds as it ducks and loops around the action.

It’s as if style is the only thing Vaughn holds sacred, while extreme convictions on religious or political grounds are something to be ridiculed and, in two jaw-droppingly irreverent sequences, wiped from the face of the earth. On the style front, Firth comes across as an extreme caricature of perceived elegance, ultra-cool within the normally priggish confines of custom-tailored London fashion. He’s an impeccably dressed action figure capable of dispatching a room full of goons without so much as wrinkling his suit.

Valentine’s no slouch, either, his DayGlo look adapted more to fit Jackson’s flamboyant persona than the character’s socially awkward idiosyncrasies (which include an amusingly paradoxical aversion to the sight of blood). And because a great villain is judged in part by the quality of his henchpersons, “Kingsman” introduces Algerian dancer Sofia Boutella (“StreetDance 2”) as Valentine’s lethal valet, Gazelle — a sultry improvement over “Goldfinger’s” Oddjob, with legs that have been replaced with razor-sharp powerbocks.

So, while seriousness has overtaken the Bond franchise in recent years (hardly a bad thing, mind you), “Kingsman” runs no such risk. Vaughn welcomes details that might seem silly in another director’s hands, such as a bulletproof umbrella or tiny microchips that can make one’s head explode, presenting everything playfully enough that plausibility isn’t a factor. It’s all a question of attitude, really, from the film’s funky score (which clearly owes a debt to John Barry) to cocky newcomer Egerton, who looks plenty tough speeding backward through oncoming traffic or skydiving without a chute, but softens up the instant he’s asked to train a Pug puppy. In another progressive touch, the film objectifies its shirtless star far more than it does a rival recruit played by Sophie Cookson, who can hold her own against him during training.

Whether it’s “Alex Rider,” “Agent Cody Banks” or “Spy Kids,” plenty have tried to adapt the 007 shtick to younger characters, with demonstrably dopey results. In the end, the reason it works for Vaughn is that he’s making the film for adults. (Spoiler alert.) The studio reportedly pushed back on several touchy scenes, including one that plays like a surreal dream sequence from another movie (like Kevin Smith’s “Red State,” perhaps), as hatemongering members of a Westboro-style congregation flip out and spontaneously start attacking one another, but Vaughn fought to maintain the film’s edge. Though “Kingsman: The Secret Service” doesn’t open for several more weeks, the ill-considered church massacre remained in the not-quite-finished version screened for review — precisely the sort of imagery Hollywood studios hastily pull the instant some real-world tragedy strikes, only to find themselves propagating anew once the dust settles.

Film Review: 'Kingsman: The Secret Service'

Reviewed at 20th Century Fox Studios, Los Angeles, Dec. 19, 2014. Running time: 129 MIN.


(U.K.) A 20th Century Fox (in U.S./U.K.) release and presentation, in association with Marv of a Cloudy production, made in association with TSG Entertainment. Produced by Matthew Vaughn, David Reid, Adam Bohling. Executive producers, Mark Millar, Dave Gibbons, Stephen Marks, Claudia Vaughn, Pierre Lagrange. Co-producer, Jane Goldman.


Directed by Matthew Vaughn. Screenplay, Jane Goldman, Vaughn, based on the comicbook “The Secret Service” by Mark Millar, Dave Gibbons. Camera (color, widescreen), George Richmond; editors, Eddie Hamilton, Jon Harris; music, Henry Jackman, Matthew Margeson; production designer, Paul Kirby; supervising art director, Andy Thompson; set decorators, Jennifer Williams, David Morison; costume designer, Arianne Phillips; sound (Dolby Atmos), Simon Hayes; sound designers, Matthew Collinge, Danny Sheehan; sound supervisor, Collinge; re-recording mixers, Mike Prestwood Smith, Collinge; visual effects supervisor, Steve Begg; visual effects, Prime Focus World, Nvizible, Jellyfish Pictures, Panton Creative, Doc & A Soc, Peerless, BUF; special effects supervisor, Steve Warner; stunt coordinator/second unit director, Brad Allan; fight coordinator, Guillermo Grispo; second unit camera, Fraser Taggert; casting, Reg Poerscout-Edgerton.


Colin Firth, Samuel L. Jackson, Mark Strong, Taron Egerton, Sophie Cookson, Jack Davenport, Mark Hamill, Sofia Boutella, Edward Holcroft, Jack Cutmore-Scott, Geoff Bell, Samantha Womack, Michael Caine. (English, Arabic, Swedish dialogue)

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  1. Amanda Jo Ross says:

    i loved the movie Kingsman am a James Bond fan for years – this movie was fresh and funny better than any James Bond movie – loved the effects and the lines were up todate and clever well done – looking forward to seeing more of Kingsmen – great job great actors

  2. DG says:

    Usually a fan of action packed spy thrillers but the gratuitous violence and misogynistic pornographic pointless ending made me ask why? Why ruin a great movie with scenes that do nothing to advance the plot, why ruin a great movie with a closing scene thousands of young women will see that denigrates them without enhancing the characters as multidimensional? Sexist and pathetic, don’t waste your money.

  3. John Smith says:

    Whatever fun the trailer lead you to believe would be had was quickly buried under the twisted psychology that is the expression of Matthew Vaughn’s mind. Excessive Violence, excessive hatred, excessive bigotry and excessive blood just for the sake of it. The church scene was in very bad taste, and the only reason to pick on the Christian faith is because Matthew Vaughn hates Christians and fears reprisal from the Merida of other religions he could have chosen to represent irrational people. Why not ISIS, radical Islam, Hezbollah, Hamas? The answer is that the coward, Matthew Vaughn, fears them. So HF attacks Christianity instead. He is an ignorant, massaginistic, fear-filled, bigoted, megalomaniac; who uses the screen to project his own twisted and childish soul rather than make movies that truly matter.

  4. Bill Fold says:

    Will never see another movie with Samuel Scum Jackson who is a r***st.

    • Eggy says:

      What are you talking about? Have you somehow confused Samuel L. Jackson with Bill Cosby? Or are you writing this in your Klan robes while you plan your next lynching?

  5. Floy Joy says:

    Colin Firth, in his saville-row suit, and using his umbrella as a weapon is so obviously John Steed from the original and best “The Avengers” ’60s tv series. Yet no mention of it!!! Are these reviewers today 12 years old and only into comic-books??!!!!

  6. MCM says:

    I didn’t realise objectification was progressive, whatever the object.

  7. Benson F says:

    The beginning had me confused. What is the actual rating for the movie (PG-13 or R)?

  8. LOL says:

    Matthew Vaughn is a snobby, posho, private school educated toff. He’s a spoilt aristocrats making money by pretending to be down with British chav culture.

    This is a movie made by a Tory supporter.

  9. I can’t wait to see Kingsman The Secret Service when it finally debut in the theater.

  10. Obvious Guy says:

    I saw the trailer and found myself saying “It’s ‘Wanted,'” which makes sense as Wanted was also originally a comic book WRITTEN BY MARK MILAR…just like Kingsman.

    Seems like that comparison should have been made in this review, along with the many others referenced?

  11. CSW says:

    I don’t see how an R-rated movie, seemingly targeted at a younger audience, will perform well at the box office.

  12. occultology says:

    I was hoping that this film would be good, and you made it sound great. I am pleased.

    • Sounds like a winner; can’t wait. However, your opening sentence baffles me. Who would be so dumb as to think that the Bond films have gotten too serious? You’ve got to stop listening to these idiots.

  13. I hope that Kingsman : The Secret Service turn out to be a hit and there will be a sequel real soon.

    • From the clip that I see. Kingsman: the Secret Service will be a hit and I still hope that there will be a sequel real soon. I can’t wait to see the film and than buy the DVD when it become available.

      • N.Ramers says:

        After the first part of the movie was trite, but witty, the church free-for-all bloody massacre scene was like having them throw dog-shit on you. I walked out, as would anyone who cares what folks are exposed to. It was pointless violence orchestrated to see how much CRAP one movie could bombard people with before they’d object. Movies like this show just how low the masses have sank to be willing to go along with the sick humor.
        Don’t support this gutter garbage.

    • Glenn C. says:

      Like the director. His style. Also like the concept. Should do well. Looking forward to it.

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