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Monday, 16 February 2015

REVIEW - KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE (2015)

Directed by: Matthew Vaughn
Written by: Jane Goldman, Matthew Vauhgn
Starring: Colin Firth, Taron Egerton, Samuel L. Jackson
Music by: Henry Jackman, Matthew Margeson
Release date: February 5, 2015 (New Zealand)


Matthew Vaughn's filmography isn't particularly lengthy, but he has never put a bad foot forward. The delightfully unhinged director's most familiar works to most are 2010's Kick-Ass and 2011's X-Men: First Class, both of which definitely reside in the higher section of the comicbook movie food chain, with the latter arguably being the best entry in its series. Kingsman: The Secret Service is yet another comicbook adaptation from Vaughn based on content from Kick-Ass creator Mike Millar, but the differences this time are that the source material is unknown to most, and the film takes some liberties with it plus it doesn't have a particularly comicbook-y feel. With a reliable director, a renowned cast and even a few new faces, can Vaughn continue his positive streak?

Gary "Eggsy" Unwin (Taron Egerton) could probably have a bit more going for him. His school grades are admirable, but the South London scallywag dabbles in petty theft, plus he's unemployed, doesn't seem to have much of a goal in life, and is constantly conflicting with his mother's openly abusive boyfriend. Eggsy's father was a Kingsman: an extremely skilled and proficient individual, part of a super-secret organisation of spies that take only the best of British. But his father proved that you don't always live twice after he was killed protecting his fellow Kingsmen during a raid mission in the Middle East. Harry Hart (codenamed "Galahad", played by Colin Firth), ever-grateful for his father's sacrifice, offers to spare Eggsy from some trouble with the local constabularies if he becomes a Kingsman. In order to do this, Eggsy will have to pursue through an extremely demanding selection process if he is to have any chance of achieving his goal. But this is the least of Eggy's problems, because even if he passes the test, he'll have to stop the pimped out multi-billionare entrepreneur Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson) from "saving" planet Earth by culling its population.


Kingsman takes heavy influence from the spy movies of old, particularly the somewhat more carefree days of the early James Bonds. It's a mish-mash of various typical spy movie tropes and its plot is simple, but it's also a self-aware love letter to this past time, actively decrying the grittier approach that certain franchises have taken nowadays. Fittingly so, because Kingsman at its heart is a fun little action/comedy. But even though the tones are balanced perfectly, it's a far cry from an innocent romp. One of the things that really gives Kingsman its identity is its 007-infused slickness laced with the violence and vulgarity that Vaughn and Millar are no strangers to. Senseless death is somewhat frequent - this film probably contains one of the highest body counts in recent years - and things can get quite gruesome with all the Walking Dead-style kills that make sure everybody puts their weapons to good use. Which means that if you're Jim Carrey one of those people who found the almost-deliberately offensive violence in Kick-Ass to be a bit distasteful, then this film is not for you. Nevertheless, it's all done with a wink.

While the action scenes in Kingsman that don't involve actual fisticuffs are also fantastic (there's an aerial parachute scene that's packed with tension), the fight scenes here are exceptional. They utilise a quite bit of shaky cam, but those averse to this technique should be fine as the camera still follows the action, which, by the way, is outrageous. The choreography is inventive and every brawl is bold, brutal and stylish. I wouldn't be surprised if it turns out to be controversial, but there is an astonishing scene that takes place in a church that is not only simultaneously shocking and captivating, but it will undoubtedly be a contender for one of the best action scenes of 2015 (and right before it begins you'll hear an utterly hilarious line that is now, hands down, one of my favourite pieces of dialogue in cinematic history). What makes some of these scenes even more impressive in particular is the fact that they're carried by Colin Firth. It's slightly surreal seeing the usually-dapper 54-year-old Oscar-winner completely mop the floor with a room full of people half his age, and there's a distinct lack of a stunt double which makes it all the more admirable. This is not the same man you saw in The King's Speech, and honestly, I'd much rather watch Firth throw down than at least 90% of mainstream action stars today.


The cast in Kingsman is stellar across the board. Mark Strong isn't actually a villain for once in the role of Merlin, and while his character here still has a bit of an edge to him it's nice to see him in a bit of a different light. Samuel L. Jackson is a riot in Kingsman, playing a megalomaniac who speaks with a flamboyant lisp, can't stand the sight of blood and has a different cap on in almost every single shot. While there are still Jackson-isms in Valentine's personality, it's a real treat to see someone who's usually accustomed to being the baddest MF in town behave like a royal priss, and every time he's on screen it's hard not to at least chuckle. Armenian dancer/actress Sofia Boutella plays Valentine's henchwoman Gazelle, and while Boutella hasn't been in much outside of music videos and films, Gazelle is arguably one of the most memorable film villains in recent memory just due to concept alone. She's an undeniably appealing character who gets to do all kinds of crazy stunts with her amputated blade-legs, and who Quentin Tarantino is probably kicking himself for not thinking up sooner.

If there's any weak link in Kingsman's cast it's Sophie Cookson in her first role as Roxy. Cookson's performance is far from bad, but her character is very underdeveloped and is only really there so we can have a female character on the good side. To the writers' credit however, it's refreshing to see her relationship with Eggsy be left up to interpretation, as opposed to decisively romantic.

Speaking of Eggsy, Taron Egerton is a revelation. The 25-year-old British actor also makes his feature-film debut here, and if his performance is anything to go by then he should be skyrocketing to superstardom quite quickly, because he's so likeable and has such a natural star quality that he feels like a proven leading man already. We definitely haven't seen the last of him.

The character of Eggsy also makes a funny and, at times, heartwarming juxtaposition between he and Harry, because they're both polar opposites: one is about as gentlemany as you can possibly get - minus the highly efficient killing skills - and the other shouts "oh my days" in his snapback and trackies (coming from a Brit, South London accents will never be not funny). And while Firth may be plastered all over the promotional material, this is really Eggsy's story. He goes from practically nothing but a street urchin with a less-than-desirable lifestyle to a hero with (just about) the right amount of skill and class to be deemed fit for a Kingsman. There's a bit of social commentary in this regard (Kingsman isn't exactly mentally stimulating but it's far from mindless), but at the end of the day it's the wit and escapism that makes the film.

Kingsman isn't without its drawbacks: its action-heavy third act suffers from some oddly uneven pacing - although thankfully the wound is greatly softened due to the virtuosity displayed in each scene - and (mild spoilers): Eggsy's temporary dismissal from the Kingsmen turns out to be rather inconsequential as it doesn't take him very long at all to get back in. There's also a vulgar joke during the film's ending that will undoubtedly not sit well with some, and many will be quick to cry out "misogyny!", which is absolute nonsense. It serves as a homage to the hypermasculinity displayed in classic Bond films, which is fine, but its problem is that it slightly goes against previously established character traits. Nonetheless, these issues are mere specks on Kingsman's canvas, because everything else here is so enthralling that its missteps are easy to overlook.


This is probably a long shot, but I pray to the movie Gods that ingenuity prevails and Kingsman annihilates the abominable Fifty Shades of Grey at the box office, because if this film meets the same disappointing grosses that Kick-Ass and X-Men: First Class were plagued with then it'll be a travesty. Potential sequel talks have begun for Kingsman already, and if another instalment sees the light of day, here's hoping that Vaughn - who, by choice or by chance, is usually absent from sequels to his films - sticks around this time. Forget about the January dumping ground leftovers and stern-faced Oscar nominees, because right now, you'd be hard-pressed to find a current release that's simply more gratifying than Kingsman.