“Give me a far-fetched theatrical plot any day”
The line of dialogue taken from Kingsman: The Secret Service should remind us of the main reason we go to the cinema: to be entertained. Director Matthew Vaughn, who helmed Kick-Ass (2010) and X-Men: First Class (2011), returns with this cinematic love letter to the classic James Bond films of the 1960s and 1970s. Kingsman refines a sense of quintessential Britishness, whilst carrying comedic charm in its heart. The recent Bond reboot is at once thematically and visually dark, peppered with seriousness yet stylistically excellent in its own right. It is refreshing welcome to see a spy action-thriller that is unashamedly absurd, thriving on its own satire. It seems that its sole intention is just about having fun.
Colin Firth reinvents his rather groomed image, transforming into an action hero with a distinctly English style and sophistication. Leaving the flappy hand slaps of Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason (2004) behind him, Firth upgrades to meticulously choreographed fight sequences, reminiscent of a Jason Bourne action. He plays the noble Harry Hart or, as his fellow secret agents repeatedly refer to him, Galahad. Led by Michael Caine, replicating his butler shtick from Christopher Nolan’s rebooted Batman franchise (2005-2012), the Kingsman are a covert intelligence agency who share a healthy love for sharp suits and all things gentlemanly, all the while routinely saving the world from various terrorist threats.
Our protagonist is city tearaway Gary “Eggsy” Unwin (a stunning breakthrough debut performance from Taron Egerton), unaware that he is the son of an ex-Kingsman that was killed in the line of duty. After confronting a gang led by his abusive stepfather, Eggsy comes under scrutiny by the police. Galahad bails him out and enters him into an Apprentice-style recruitment process in order to become a new member of the Kingsman. They are faced with the threat of Internet mogul and flamboyant dresser Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson), who is intent on sending the world into a murderous rampage through a brainwashing mobile phone signal. Jackson departs here from his persistent cameos as agent Nick Fury in the lucrative Marvel franchise and offers a caricaturing performance that continuously nails gag after gag. Similar to the entire cast, it is a performance of an actor genuinely enjoying themselves and not just there for the big pay-cheque.
Based on the Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons comic book series, Kingsman takes influence from its original source material through its cartoonish direction and cinematography that presents a dreamlike and fantastical spectacle. Almost inevitably, moral arguments arise out of its use of violence as an entertainment strategy. There is one scene in particular, that loosely imitates the infamous Westboro Baptist Church protests, which transcends into a raucous, blood-soaked melee. Kingsman embraces the bloodshed in its own context of silliness and hyper-stylised aesthetics in a way that is both comically indulgent and rather difficult to watch sincerely.
The film goes as far as to employ one of commercial cinema’s biggest irritants; instead of timid, squirming references, it fully, and rather blatantly, embraces the use of product placement by utilising products as a narrative instrument to comical effect. It is common practice in the industry for big-budget films to rely upon the financial backing of hefty ancillary corporations; the way in which Kingsman manipulates this to its own benefit, is courageously cunning, if not an astute ploy.
Kingsman is truly self-aware and has clear ambitions about what it wants to be. It raises questions about social class and political structure and yet feels predominantly equivocal and balanced enough to not distract from the absolute thrill-ride that it is. Perhaps not every gag will resonate with the general audience, but there is so much to admire in Kingsman that minor stains fail to spoil this sharp, slick, gentleman’s suit of a movie.