Without boundaries or restraint, Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman are fast becoming one of the great film-making partnerships.
Brilliantly violent, brilliantly paced and brilliantly British, Matthew Vaughn’s Kingsman: The Secret Service has finally arrived after a much delayed release. Based on the graphic novel by Mark Millar, the film follows a roughly similar structure to its source. When one of their members is killed in action, an elite espionage agency known as the Kingsmen begins searching for a replacement. Keen to look outside of the usual places, veteran spy Harry Hart (Colin Firth) recommends a young petty criminal named Gary (Taron Egerton) or ‘Eggsy’ as he prefers to be known. Going through a rigorous evaluation process, Gary is made to compete with other candidates in order to earn a place alongside the Kingsmen. Meanwhile, Harry investigaes an eccentric, theatrical megalomaniac (played by Samuel L. Jackson) who is threatening to wipe out a significant portion of the world’s population.
A love letter to the spy-films of old, the film both embraces and pokes fun at classic spy motifs. With everything from The Avengers (Steed and Peel not Stark and Thor) to 007 getting referenced, the film wears its influences on its sleeve. Of course whilst the gadgets, the suits and the score all hearken back to other films, it’s still worth remarking that this isn’t like anything you’ve seen before. Not quite Austin Powers, not quite Jason Bourne, the film has its own very particular tone. Think James Bond meets My Fair Lady as directed by Quentin Tarantino and you’re in the right ball park.
On that last reference point alone it’s worth noting the appearance of one Samuel L. Jackson. The seeming omnipresence of Jackson in the cinematic marketplace may have threatened to become a bit stale for some, but here he’s able to be a bit more free. Working unrestrained is when Jackson is at his best (see Django Unchained) and his Valentine is a fresh and original villain which is something that can be sorely lacking these days. Then there’s Mr Darcy himself. Firth’s Hart is the kind of colorful, quotable type that cult characters are made of. Even after the initial thrill of seeing Firth in full on The Raid mode wears off, the character still resonates because he’s more than just a cardboard cut out. This rings true for most of the major players as well. Some of the secondary characters are a bit more cartoonish but (as is often the case with this film) that’s sort of the point.
Particularly well rounded is Eggsy, who could have so easily been a demeaning and unlikable stereotype. Instead of being simplistically labelled as a ‘disadvantaged youth’, Eggsy is allowed to develop into a more dimensional character with a real tenderness masked beneath his apparent irresponsibility. This is mostly down to terrific writing by Vaughn and frequent collaborator Jane Goldman. But don’t overlook an impressive performance from Egerton too.
With a keen eye for talent, Vaughn has consistently got a hold of stars in-the-making before they’ve hit it big. In Layer Cake he provided the ideal vehicle for Daniel Craig to demonstrate his aptness for Bond, Stardust gave us the first of many great Mark Strong baddies, Kick-Ass introduced the world to Chloe Moretz and X-Men First Class showcased Jennifer Lawrence in a blockbuster before she was everybody’s girl on fire; it seems likely that Egerton, with his distinctive charm, will be the latest to join these oh-so-very-cool ranks.
Whilst Kingsman is more than just Kick-Ass with spies, it does share its spiritual predecessor’s same frenetic hyperactivity. The pacing never once lets up and everything is thrown at you in rapid succession. The last act is gloriously silly in the best possible way. In fact, the entire last hour is so insanely fun, that any issues slip right under the carpet. Always capable of bringing a killer action sequence to the table, Vaughn really does outdo himself this time. Pretty much every set-piece is worthy of note, but the real standout is a second act brawl that takes place in a Church. Escalating every time you think it has reached its pinnacle, it’s truly something else. And rarely is a song so well suited to an action scene, mimicking the ever rising lunacy on screen.
Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014), directed by Matthew Vaughn is distributed in UK cinemas by Twentieth Century Fox, certificate 15.