Kingsman: The Secret Service is a spectacle that needed better action
With an outstanding ensemble, terrifically topic plot and overall spirit of fun and unpredictability, Kingsman: The Secret Service would be one of the year’s standout action films if it wasn’t for one minor problem — the action.
It’s not that Director/co-screenwriter Matthew Vaughn can’t stage riveting and clever action sequences — he captures the frenetic sense of a comic book come to life better than anyone save Joss Whedon and The Russo Brothers — but his passion for mayhem and over the top violence doesn’t connect with an otherwise smart action film.
With co-screenwriter Jane Goldman, Vaughn (Kick-Ass [Blu-ray]) once again masterfully adapts a Mark Millar comic book. The setup is inspired — Valentine, an evil tech whiz (Samuel L. Jackson having a blast with a lisp and hip hop mogul wardrobe) and Gazelle (Sofia Boutella), his henchwoman with bladed prosthetic legs — is set to unleash a weapon that will eliminate most of humanity using the one device they can’t live without.
Valentine’s actions soon get the attention of the Kingsmen, a secret agency devoted to protecting the peace. With a recent death of one of their own, each Kingsman — named after a Knight of the Round Table — is tasked with finding a replacement.
Harry aka Galahad (Colin Firth in a role that fits him as perfectly as his well-tailored suits) thinks he’s found the ideal candidate in the rough around the edges Eggsy (charming newcomer Taron Egerton). The Harry/Eggsy relationship has a Batman and Robin tone with a bit of a twist as Harry has little to do with Eggsy’s training and is instead focused on stopping Valentine. It helps give everyone a greater sense of purpose and gives the film a sharper pace instead of the typical boring origin setup.
He gets it half right with the well-dressed suave spies, fancy gadgets and unique villains. Kingsman has a nice throwback feel while also being an edgier and fun-filled take on Bond perfectly suited for a new generation much like xXx did back in 2002.
The characters are so well-defined from Mark Strong’s Merlin to Michael Caine’s Arthur that you want to spend more time in this crazy little world Vaughn and Goldman have created. Firth makes being a spy seem so effortlessly cool I want to see him explore the genre a bit more (possibly in an actual Bond film).
Egerton has a likeable manner and avoids coming across like the annoying younger, hip new gen spy. In an age where every film is desperately trying to spark a franchise, Kingsman is the rare fully-realized effort that makes you want to see more of these larger than life characters that don’t need capes and tights. Why bother, when they can wear such sweet suits?
But Vaughn struggles trying to tone down all of Millar’s desperate attempts at edgy humor and shocking moments. Millar lacks any iota of subtlety frequently to the detriment of the story. While fun, Vaughn would have been better served exhibiting more restraint and not trying to stay as faithful to Millar’s original vision.
The buzzed about church massacre scene is exquisitely shot with a constant sense of danger and movement, but Vaughn gets too caught up in the mayhem to allow the violence to resonate. Instead, it’s full-on ridiculous video game style violence that reaches its goofy climax where scores of characters’ heads explode set to Pomp and Circumstance. A bit of dialogue late in the film sounds more like an exchange penned by naughty 13-year-olds, but that’s more the exception than the norm.
Underneath all the silly carnage, there’s a tremendously fun film here. Hopefully a sequel can smooth out the more ludicrous action scenes, but as a starting point, Kingsman certainly makes a statement that a new franchise has arrived.
Rating: 6.5 out of 10