Put more world-class dramatic actors in action roles. No matter how silly the material, if you get a great actor to sell it, I’m buying it all day. That’s what Colin Firth does in Kingsman: The Secret Service, he sells it. He brings gravity and class to his portrayal of Harry (Galahad) Hart, a perfect mixture of Michael Caine’s Harry Palmer and Roger Moore’s James Bond. He is first and foremost a gentleman – a gentleman who can kill you in literally hundreds of ways. Galahad is the top agent in a secret society of spies created in the late 19th century from the un-inherited fortunes of dead royal sons. They’re all named for Knights of the Round Table and they thwart Bond-esque villain from enacting their world-ending evil plans. It’s a comic book, just go with it.
Like Millar’s Wanted, Kingsman’s main protagonist is a young man whose father was killed. Taron Egerton is Eggsy, the lad who has lots of promise but is wasting his potential without guidance. Enter Galahad, who sponsors Eggsy as a candidate to replace the latest member of the Kingsman to die. There is some fairly standard fish out of water plot points and training sequences that offer no real surprises. As Eggsy advances, Galahad pursues the trail of the fallen agent’s killer which leads him to Richmond Valentine.
Samuel L. Jackson is Valentine, the big bad. He’s a tech tycoon millionaire who wants to save the planet from the virus of humanity by culling the herd. By giving everyone in the world access to his free internet/phone sim card, he plans to trigger a mind control ray that turns people into homicidal maniacs while the select few hunker down inside a giant bad guy lair located inside a mountain. It’s like The Purge on a global scale. The trailer makes the character seem like a joke. Sam Jackson said, “Let me do my Russell Simmons”, and they went with it. It’s a silly performance, but it definitely grew on me because the character never comes across as a jackass.
All of this ridiculousness serves one purpose, to provide a delivery vehicle for giant action set pieces. And that’s where Kingsman excels. The action scenes have a mix of digital FX mapped onto practical stunts mixed with 300 super slo-mo. It’s all anchored with smooth, respectably-framed shots so you actually have a sense of physical space – something lacking in so many modern fight scenes. However, this is a hyper violent, yet curiously bloodless movie. People are stabbed, cut in half, heads blow completely off of bodies, bones are snapped and there’s a fair amount of people being shot in the face (John Wick does it better). A scene set in a racist church in Kentucky is the whole movie in a nutshell. The tone is played for laughs while an entire church full of people are beat, stabbed and shot to death. It’s almost horrifying in its brutality. But it’s such a tour de force of directing and special FX, it’s so over the top, that it manages to become fun. That Vaughn manages to pull this off without it becoming truly horrific is a credit to his ability as a director. Galahad recognizes what has happened and how awful it is. It may just be a line, but I appreciate the self-awareness.
The best thing a movie like Kingsman: The Secret Service can do is deliver on its trailer, and it does. I enjoyed the way it’s modern setting meshed with the 60s cool vibe of early spy films. Taron Egerton is a solid enough lead, Michael Caine and Mark Strong round out the cast as “M” and “Q” and Colin Firth nails it as an action hero. When a scene in a movie makes me say “Whoa” loud enough for others to hear it, that means it’s probably lived up to its marketing. Kingsman got a couple of “Whoas” out of me. I look forward to the next installment.
3 and a half Martinis
A couple of random notes about the movie:
- You can buy all the costumes from the movie.
- Leonardo DiCaprio was in early talks to be the villain.
- Mark Hamill cameos as a climate scientist because in the original comic the character was named Mark Hamill.