Matthew Vaughn’s slick second collaboration with writer Mark Millar, Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014), brings together the kinetic energy and shock humour of Kick-Ass (2010) and the now well-worn tropes of the spy genre, making for a gleefully entertaining thrill ride, laden with taboo. At the centre of the story is a London youth named Eggsy (newcomer Taron Egerton), who is saved from his dead-end life on a crime-ridden estate when he meets dapper gent Harry Hart (Colin Firth) who offers him a place in the elite independent secret service, The Kingsman. As Hart, Firth breaks his run of duds, both sitting in his ‘toff’ comfort zone, and usurping it to become, quite surprisingly, an out-and-out action hero.
The relationship between Hart and Eggsy is a conventional master and apprentice story, as well as a ‘rags to riches’ tale. Vaughn takes great pleasure in winking to the audience about this, with references to Pretty Women (1990) and My Fair Lady (1964). Indeed, he demonstrates his deep knowledge of his audience, tossing in such references with abandon, confident in the squeals of glee they will elicit in cinema geeks. Hyperbole is lavished on the swagger and swank of The Kingsman, and Hart attempts to impart the wisdom that a gentleman is something born of the spirit, not how much is sitting in daddy’s account at Coutts. Training scenes continue this kind of instruction, and are more arresting than the over-arching, spy-movie plot.
Mark Strong plays Merlin (all The Kingsman have Arthurian codenames), who is essentially a gun-totting Q, and Michael Caine as head of the organisation, Arthur. It is these scenes that Vaughan labors his class system critique, paralleling working class Eggsy, with is privately educated fellow future Kingsman agents. The more conventional aspect of the film involves Samuel L. Jackson as the lisping billionaire maniac, Valentine, who is a great source of comedy. He is a overblown combination of the megalomania of a Silicon Valley entrepreneur by way of Blofeld, who, despite wanting to kill off most of the world’s population, can’t stand the sight of blood. It is in this latter stages of the film in which Vaughn’s signature violence – and riffs on the super-spy genre – come to the fore. In one scene, Hart chows down on a big mac in Valentine’s lair, where they both discuss what they love and hate about spy movies.
Being a Vaughn movie, nothing is subtle, but it makes for refreshing viewing after the somber tone of both the Bourne and Bond franchises. Vaughn’s films are an acquired taste, and if Chloe Grace Moretz dropping the c-bomb in Kick-Ass shocked you then perhaps Kingsman is not you cup of tea. There are vulgar moments that slip towards bad taste, most notably the Princess Of Sweden offering anal sex to Eggsy if he saves the world. This moment no doubt is a parody of the misogyny that plagues the Bond franchise. Disappointingly, the female cast are really not served well: Sofia Boutella is little more than an Oddjob-figure with razor sharp legs, while newcomer Sophie Cookson is provided the duff role of Roxy, a potential Kingsman agent, who in actuality is little more than a love interest. Then there is the violence. We see heads popping like fireworks to the sound of KC And The Sunshine Band, and we are meet with a blood bath in a Westboro-Baptist like church, where Colin Firth impales choir members and preachers alike with relish. It is gruesome, visceral and not for the faint hearted. It is pure Millar and Vaughn – like much of the crude, ultra-violent, often hilarious breath of fresh air that is Kingsman: The Secret Service.
Joe Walsh | @JosephDAWalsh