Thursday, May 19, 2016

Kingsman: The Secret Service

Originally posted on March 20, 2015

"There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self."

Spy movie parodies and send-ups have been done to death ever since the Bond films came into existence, with Austin Powers and TV shows like Get Smart and Archer achieving more than a little success due to their hard-edged and hilarious jabs at (and love for) the classic spy franchise.  While Kingsman: The Secret Service is not exactly a parody of 007, it's definitely a tribute to the genre and it's very silly (in a dark sort of way).  Director Matthew Vaughn (X-Men: First Class) delivers a twisted, over-the-top spy movie with lots of heart, charm, and action scenes that are just amazing. Looking for shaky-cam and rapid-fire cutting?  You won't find it here, and I thank God for that.

Taron Egerton plays Gary "Eggsy" Unwin, a smart but aimless young man living in a broken home in London.  He becomes involved with a secret intelligence agency that his father worked at before he died in action 17 years ago.  Eggsy is put through rigorous training along with other young, hopeful candidates all in competition to fill a spot in the agency.  He's mentored by an ass-kicking senior agent named Harry Hart (Colin Firth), and supervised by the leader of the organization, Chester King (Michael Caine).  All the while, more sinister things are being plotted by the wealthy and powerful philanthropist Valentine (a lisping Samuel Jackson) and his assistant Gazelle (Sofia Boutella), who walks around on bladed, prosthetic legs.

The film stands on its own as a very entertaining and thrilling action/comedy. However, the love and affection for Bond is what pushes it from "good" to "pretty damn good" territory.  The over-the-top nature of the action scenes and situations are fun and inventive, and the movie never shies away from ugliness, grotesquery, or cartoonish death scenes (the church scene... my God... the church scene). All of this is held up by a fantastic cast, both in the ways you expect and ways you might not have. 

Carrying the film for the majority is relative newcomer Egerton, and he adds a great deal of charisma to the role.  Colin Firth is absolutely perfect as Hart, acting as a father-figure for Eggsy and adding that old-school Bond charm the film rides on.  I wasn't sure how to feel about Jackson's lisping villain at first, but looking back, it's kind of interesting.  He's a character acting with child-like ambitions in a child-like world, so one has to question whether or not lisping like a two-year old is something he was just born with or something he does on purpose to keep himself innocent. 

Character depth might be limited to the lead characters, but the supporting actors are always fun to watch (especially blade-footed Gazelle). Kingsman's plot is intricate in ways that don't really make sense except in the film's own world, and that's about at Bondian as you get.  I won't spoil it here, but all I'll say is that I'm a sucker for sci-fi allegories that use society's obsession with technology to predict its undoing.  The script air-tight and littered with spy-movie references, dry wit, and clever plot twists that keep everything light and fast-paced without feeling rushed or sloppy (minus some spots in the first act).

Action scenes are fast and brutal, often using full bodied frames and continuous shots.  Slow motion is used to great effect to increase the impact of a punch or a bullet rather than slow the fights down like in too many other action movies.  The CGI effects are par for the course, nothing too exceptional and nothing hideous (though those chrome hot-air balloons toward the end come pretty close).  The score by Henry Jackman and Matthew Margeson is also nothing memorable, but it's perfectly serviceable (just like most of their work).

Kingsman, most importantly, is just a great time.  Great characters, fantastic action, spy movie references, and a finale that can only be described as explosively hilarious make it as fun as it is.  I've heard that this is the first in a series of films that could spawn a whole new franchise, and while I'm excited for more, I'm also skeptical.  A film series like this may run into the Spider-man problem: trying to outdo itself becomes impossible and so sequels become increasingly overstuffed.  Although if Vaughn were to return as director, the potential is undoubtedly huge.