The days of the classy ’60s spy films seemed long lost. The world has gotten too complicated for simple stories of agents in tuxedos squaring off with megalomaniacs. Yet in walks “Kingsman: The Secret Service,” based on a Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons offering that sleek look and those beloved spy genre conventions but with plenty of modern-day sensibilities.
If Matthew Vaughn wasn’t already a candidate to direct a future James Bond film, behold his audition tape. The “Kick-Ass” (also from Millar) and “X-Men: First Class” director makes yet another stylish and wickedly fun comic adaptation, raising his own bar for creative action sequences. More underrated, however, is his partnership with screenwriter Jane Goldman. This duo has yet to slip up, impeccably balancing the tropes and formulas of action flicks with just enough originality to keep their stories engaging from start to finish.
“Kingsman” stars newcomer Taron Egerton as Gary “Eggsy” Unwin, a street kid recruited by Kingsman agent Harry Hart, code name “Galahad” (Colin Firth) to join the top-secret organization after they lose an agent. Eggsy’s father was a Kingsman, and Harry sees that same potential. As Eggsy undergoes a competition with other young men and women to fill the vacancy, Harry works to uncover a sinister plot being orchestrated by tech mogul billionaire Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson).
The script does gloss over Eggsy’s development from troubled thief to top-flight field agent, perhaps the film’s biggest flaw, but Vaughn and Goldman maintain suspense is basic yet effective ways. Will Eggsy in fact win that spot with the Kingsmen? And what’s Valentine up to anyway? They recognize their best cards and play them at the right time, and that’s what a good blockbuster does. Some impressive twists toward the end of the second act also rejuvenate that intrigue when it starts to wane.
Egerton is a solid young talent and he’s surrounded by a cast who would do just as well in an Oscar-contending drama with Firth, Jackson, Mark Strong and Michael Caine. Some gravitas was definitely required to legitimize Kingsman in the eyes of the audience; without it the concept would feel too much like a cheap knock-off. These heavyweights help the film give off the vibe of an homage to the spy genre with contemporary twists. The character Gazelle (Sofia Boutella), Valentine’s “muscle,” a double leg amputee with those springy leg prosthetics used by runners but outfitted with piercing metal blades, is not dissimilar from the Bond character Jaws.
With plenty of creative action sequences, many of which have surprises built into them, “Kingsman” entertains with a relative ease that so many similar action films and obscure adaptations seem to so rarely replicate. Not to mention Vaughn is becoming a bit more of an auteur, crafting fight scenes like dances but filming them with a visual roughness so as to get the best of both the practically slow-mo stylish action approach and the physical “Bourne”-style approach.
Vaughn will likely abandon the “Kingsman” series (should it become a series) as he did with his previous efforts that received follow-ups, but where he goes next is worth tracking, especially if Goldman’s in tow. And hopefully a serviceable blueprint remains in the hands of 20th Century Fox to try their luck with developing the next modern spy franchise.
Kingsman: The Secret Service
Directed by Matthew Vaughn
Written by Matthew Vaughn & Jane Goldman, Mark Millar & Dave Gibbons (comic)
Starring: Taron Egerton, Colin Firth, Samuel L. Jackson, Mark Strong