Overview: Matthew Vaughn kicks off 2015 with a love letter to old spy movies with a hard R edge. Your move, every other 2015 movie. 20th Century Fox; 2015; Rated R; 129 minutes.
Manners Maketh Man: For my money, Matthew Vaughn is still responsible for the best X-Men movie to date. First Class wasn’t just the first X-Men movie to nail the source material; it was a great time at the theater. A throwback to the briskly paced spy adventure films of the Connery Bond era, First Class merely scratched the surface of what Vaughn was capable of handling in genre fare. Kingsman: The Secret Service is his potential realized. Similar to Kick-Ass, Vaughn transcends the conceptual brilliance of Mark Millar by avoiding the mean-spirited and repulsive violent fetishes that plague the latter’s work.
Relative newcomer Taron Egerton plays Gary ‘Eggsy’ Urwin, a delinquent who spends his time racking up petty crimes and getting into fights he can’t win. When a character has an arc as drastic as Eggsy, a decent actor is required to sell the transformation from trouble-maker to hero. Egerton sells it at full price. He has the makings of a star. Then in comes suave Colin Firth as Kingsman Harry Hart, a classic spy in every sense, who dresses as well as he kicks ass. Firth was reportedly iffy on accepting the role as he wasn’t sure how he’d be able to sell the fights. Know this: Firth is a better Bond than someone like Roger Moore ever was. The duo essentially co-lead the film for a bit, but it’s undoubtedly Eggsy’s story. Eggsy is Luke; Harry is Yoda.
I was unaware of how strong a supporting cast Vaughn had recruited for this movie. Mark Strong gets to relax from his constant type-casting as a villain to play tech support named Merlin, who gets a few standout moments of his own. Sophie Cookson, another relative newcomer, gets a strong supporting role as another Kingsman recruit who avoids being relegated to background eye-candy (which confirms that Kingsman is more progressive that the Bond movies it is so clearly inspired by). Samuel L. Jackson dominates the screen as Richmond Valentine. Forget Blofeld, we need more criminal masterminds like this guy. Michael Caine pretty much sits in a chair for the whole movie, but nobody else sits with such class.
Vaughn directs the movie and his actors with an effortless cool, undeniable charm. Action is balls-to-walls that fits lighter entertainment with high-concept action scenes. As Firth’s character Harry says, “I’ll take a preposterous plot any day.” Don’t let the fun fool you. Kingsman double-downs on the stakes as the story strives to maintain credibility as the Kingsmen try to stop a plan for world domination. Characters die and you feel the loss.
Are We Going to Fight?: Those worried Vaughn might not stray into violent Kick-Ass territory, ease your fears. Kingsman is just as violent as anything Mark Millar has ever done, minus the duplicitous moral center. A fight scene in a church – set to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s ‘Free Bird’ as a group of Westboro Baptist Church inspired folk spew hateful jargon – is destined to sit atop many lists as Best Movie Moments of 2015. Up to that point, the movie doesn’t stop getting better.
Final Thought: Matthew Vaughn brings out his best work yet, and Kingsman sets a high bar for movies in 2015.