Kingsman: The Secret Service Review - Kick-Ass With Spies, Literally

Matthew Vaughn's Bond homage/pastiche is a winner.

RATING: ˜…˜…˜…˜… Kingsman: The Secret Service sees director Matthew Vaughn reteam with co-writer Jane Goodman to adapt a Mark Millar comic riffing on a beloved genre. So it€™s Kick-Ass, just for spies then? Those jokey summaries really write themselves. But witticisms aside, that really is what Kingsman comes across as. The same pervasive self-awareness runs through the film, and if you strip down both movies' narratives of their respective genre there are some astonishing similarities. Like, spoiler-level similarities. An action beat in Kingsman even mirrors a now-iconic move from Hit-Girl. There€™s no 22 Jump Street winking to suggest this is intentional, but rather than seeing the writing team fatigued and repeating the same tricks, hewing to type affords them a broader creativity. So yeah, Kingsman is Kick-Ass with spies. But as big budget spy movies are much more fertile and epic ground than superhero comics, that leaves us with a more far reaching, and ultimately better, film.

Kingsman are a secret service (well that€™s the title explanation out of the way) who operate outside of government, bringing good, old-fashioned British class in their fight against evil-doers. If that all sounds very archaic, rest assured the film is more than aware, keen to dissect what makes a true man (RP ain€™t got nowt to do wiv it) as much as it is what makes a spy movie. With Mortdecai still embarrassing in cinemas, this feels particularly apt. The Johnny Depp vehicle acted like tax-dodging buffoons were all jolly good fun, but Kingsman has no time for pompous righteousness. Instead, it takes every opportunity it can to give intolerance the biggest middle finger it can, to hilariously audacious levels. There€™s a distinct whiff of €œThey didn't actually just do that, did they?€ to some of the more outrageous moments. A cast including British stalwarts like Colin Firth and Michael Caine as the Service€™s upper echelons really hammer this gentlemanly point home. Of course, that these two can embody an typical Britishness and also send that up should come as no surprise (although the former€™s action skills do mark out Liam Neeson-aping career). More exciting is Taron Egerton as new recruit Eggsy. He had an innate likability in Testament Of Youth, but here gets to show range - he€™s just as happy as a chavvy youth jacking cars as he is in a dapper suit suavely offing bad guys. This sideways character transition is essential to backing up the film€™s broader points about self and real-world worth and the rising star nails it. Egerton€™s surrounded by strong familiar faces, most noteworthy Mark Strong playing against type as the Scottish Q-like agent, and Mark Hamill in a cameo that should ease him back onto the big screen ahead of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. In fact, bar one exception, most of the actors are up to the deftly unsubtle script. In a twist on the age-old adage, Firth€™s Harry Hart muses that spy movies are €œonly as good as the villain€, and it€™s here Kingsman almost contradicts itself; Samuel L. Jackson€™s lisping Bill Gates riff (who has a scheme bonkers and scary in equal measure) never really stops being Jackson in a character role, although it€™s just fun enough that complaining too much about it seems picky.
Of course, this isn€™t a dissection of proper values or a character drama. This is an action-comedy, and if the earlier Kick-Ass comparisons didn€™t make that obvious, it€™s a bloody good one and a bloody one. The meta-humour you expect is prevalent, but more to build a Scream €˜nudge nudge€™ sort of tone, with much of the laugh-out-loud comedy instead coming from the characters and their interactions - a secret agent genre green-horn could dive in and laugh along the whole time. But, by all accounts, Kingsman is a solid spy movie in its own right, telling a fun and current story with a set design at times reminiscent of various era Bonds. Vaughn has always been a visually minded director, and here he really outdoes himself. Instead of aiming for photo-realism (far out of the reach of its scant budget), Kingsman goes for a stylised middle ground and adjusts the live-action elements to fit, winding up feeling much bigger a film than it practically is. You know the sweeping panning shots of cities in chaos, or the camera looping from location to location at dizzying speed are CGI, but everything else about the spy world is so hyper-intense anyway that it feels real within the confines of the movie. When every action scene is shot with the same fast cuts, like Edgar Wright on steroids, it can get a little indistinct, but the overall effect is one of insanely playful confidence. Vaughn's tactic of using technical limitations as an enabler of creativity rather than ploughing on with state-of-the-art effects that will date in six months is something many film-makers working on much more costly canvases should take notice of. A mid-production title change (the subtitle was the working title) to something easily adaptable for sequels created the impression Fox had seen long-running series potential in the idea. If that is indeed the case, it doesn€™t show in the film. The colon is the only sign of any franchise-baiting, with Vaughn and co. wholeheartedly delivering something stand-alone, leaving no plot thread dangling, which paradoxically makes the prospect of a sequel much more exciting. You just hope it isn€™t a Kick-Ass 2. What did you make of Kingsman: The Secret Service? Better or worse than Kick-Ass. Discuss the film down in the comments.

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Film Editor (2014-2016). Loves The Usual Suspects. Hates Transformers 2. Everything else lies somewhere in the middle. Once met the Chuckle Brothers.