The spy genre can always take a bit of reinvention. James Bond has gone through multiple iterations over the past 50 years, Tom Cruise brought Ethan Hunt into the modern age and Jason Bourne has proven to be a great addition despite being based on an older book.
Now comes Kingsman: The Secret Service, a film that’s old-fashioned and fresh at the same time. Based loosely on a 2012 comic book series, it centers on an agency of highly trained yet highly refined spies who pride themselves not only on their fighting skills, but also on their appearances. Each wears a bespoke suit, has a stylish pair of glasses outfitted with secret camera and carries an umbrella that turns into a nice bulletproof barrier should the need arise.
The properness of the Kingsman on the surface belies the brutal nature of the film overall.
Harry Hart (Colin Firth), one of the Kingsman leaders, recruits the hooligan-ish Eggsy (Taron Egerton) to join the group after another member has an unsavory demise. At the same time, tech billionaire Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson) sets in motion a dastardly plan that will affect the entire world, with only the Kingsman standing in his way.
Written and directed by Matthew Vaughn (Kick-Ass, X-Men: First Class) and co-written by his screenwriting partner Jane Goldman, the film keeps you on edge with unexpected twists despite the familiarity of the base story. The properness of the Kingsman on the surface also belies the brutal nature of the film overall.
Just as he did in Kick-Ass, Vaughn uses a kinetic style to give a real intensity to the action scenes. He’s also fond of graphic violence, leading to a variety of creative impalings and other vicious acts. Most of these sequences hit the mark, but there are times when the underlying seriousness of the film creeps in to disrupt the fun.
Valentine’s plan is utterly hideous, and one scene puts the audience in a particularly awkward position. In order to test his plan, he targets a church in Kentucky known for their hatefulness.
However, in the context of the film, we don’t know them at all, and it’s difficult to work up the necessary enmity to say they deserve what he inflicts upon them. Vaughn stages the scene as if it’s supposed to be entertaining, but the bloodfest that ensues feels utterly wrong.
For the rest of the film, though, it’s easier to get into the rhythm of what they’re trying to do; Firth and Egerton each brings a certain charm. Some may question Firth’s ability to be an action star, but his smooth, confident demeanor makes up for a lack of physicality. The unknown Egerton makes a great first impression as Eggsy, undergoing an Eliza Doolittle-ish transition from thug to spy.
Jackson has a blast in the villain role, even if he adds a superfluous lisp that serves more to annoy than enhance. Familiar faces like Michael Caine, Mark Strong and Mark Hamill round out the impressive cast.
Kingsman: The Secret Service makes for a great addition to the spy genre even if it goes a little overboard at times. With a clever yet familiar premise, it’s easy to see it becoming the newest franchise in an industry chock-full of them.