Matthew Vaughn will forever be in my good books for his the experience he dished out in Kick-Ass and I was eternally thankful he had no real creative hand in the deplorable Kick-Ass 2. He did write, but not direct, X-Men: First Class and it showed. In his new action comedy flick, Kingsman: The Secret Service, he is back in the ultra-violent, inky humour and unavoidably shocking territory. Above all, it is a wildly enjoyable ride.
The Kingsman refers to the well-funded independent secret intelligence service that was set up by high-end tailors looking to maintain world peace so as to ensure a market for their high-end apparels – I buy that. We meet Harry Hart played by Colin Firth (who has jumped on the ass-kicking bandwagon) in the most “British” incarnation of badass we will ever see in cinema.
We get from him an incredible education in gentlemanly apparel like the art of the bespoke suit and oxford shoes and we also see him beat down a number of thugs with tremendous skill and then later go on an incredibly overindulgent violent kill spree that jolts. Harry is the ultimate Kingsman and perfect for his young Jedi, Eggsy (Taron Egerton).
Eggsy is a great kid with potential and we all know what that means. He has had his run-ins with the law, drugs and other juvenile vices and he lives with Mom, sister and abusive stepdad in council style flats which is a massive step down from when we first met him. His biological father was a Kingsman who was killed in action for this secret agency and as fate would have it too is recruited by this mysterious group.
I say recruited but we all know he gets through in the end and saves the day but he does have to go through a recruitment process with only one slot up for grabs as one of the Kingsmen was killed in a mission that went awry. Egerton holds up well and is energetic enough to lead this film with Vaughn’s craziness flying around but does his character really get any substantive development? Nope. Did I care? Nope.
Although I felt this was also very much a pastiche of some of the manga stuff I’ve seen it is really the odes to the Bond films that stick out and fuel the film’s humour. They say the early Bond films were only as good as their villains and boy oh boy do we get the type of ludicrously nefarious villain a Matthew Vaughn film deserves in Samuel L. Jackson who basically plays himself with lisp as Valentine – a casting masterstroke.
He doesn’t come armed with the usual ambitions of world domination or power but he just wants to save mother Earth. However, like the crop of Stamper or Goldfinger, he harbours purely diabolical means. He also has the obligatory lethal henchman in the person of an elegant femme fatale with razor-blade prosthetics for legs she uses to dice up many a man.
We have here one of the most enjoyable Samuel L Jackson performances and it’s such rich source of this films laughs; from his thick lisp to his to his silicon valley hipster persona, to his repulsion at violence and blood despite his plan that is very much that. In a terrific scene, he discusses the silliness of the early Bond movies with Harry Hart over a dinner of classy expensive wine and McDonalds happy meals.
Vaughn and co-writer, Goldman are working off a comic book and that informs the type of action and violence which is quite exciting but conspicuously lacking the gore the flying limbs warranted but it still earns its R rating, though with dialogue and set pieces that offended many a people. There is that church scene which takes a dig at ultra-conservative bigots and escalates into one of the most egregious montages of violence we will see this year.
This is very much Vaughn though, nothing unexpected from the man who brought a cute and cold-blooded 11-year-old assassin to life and had her use the “C” word that rhymes with punt. The one bit that left a bad taste in my mouth was the very last sequence that was implausibly needless and did not do right by women at all.
Ultimately what is this film saying? Nothing really. It’s just one enjoyable ride that somehow manages to eat its cake and eat it. Yes, they are Kingsmen agents with all the cultured attire and all the British etiquette but they still enjoy their pints of Guinness and spew vulgarities we will never ever grasp innuendoes of in the crassest of Bond films.
The big bad is as quirky as he is twisted and as they claim, the Kingsmen ultimately exist to sell suits. It’s the funny, violent, hardcore and shocking stuff we expect from Vaughn and he delivers with exhilarating aplomb.