Kingsman: The Secret Service
2015, R, 129 min. Directed by Matthew Vaughn. Starring Colin Firth, Samuel L. Jackson, Taron Egerton, Mark Strong, Sophie Cookson, Sofia Boutella, Mark Hamill, Michael Caine, Geoff Bell, Samantha Womack.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Feb. 13, 2015
Heads will explode among fans of the film Kick-Ass, Matthew Vaughn’s 2010 take on the comic book series by Mark Millar (and John Romita Jr.), when they see the writer (with Jane Goldman)/director’s current film adaptation of another comics series by Mark Millar (and artist Dave Gibbons). The fans’ erupting paroxysms may be a spiritual tribute to the action oscreen where – spoiler alert – heads explode in blockbuster proportions. Or the fan base may just be electrified by Vaughn’s cheeky ultraviolence and profligate visual style, which accentuate the film’s comic-book feel. Other viewers may feel more in tune with Kingsman supervillain Richmond Valentine (Jackson), who ironically responds to the violent mayhem he unleashes with an uncontrollably violent autonomic response of his own.
A broad takeoff on the James Bond films of yore, Kingsman: The Secret Service gets a lot of mileage from casting Colin Firth as Harry Hart, a secret service agent in the Roger Moore mold who wears bespoke suits and has at his disposal an arsenal of nifty, convertible weapons. An actor who has specialized in playing men of good breeding rather than men of action, Firth’s centrality to this certain franchise-opener adds a gleeful sense of impudent rule-breaking whenever the character lets loose his lethal side.
These spies are part of an elite independent, international, intelligence agency founded in secrecy by British aristocrats after World War I. Its members adopt names originated by the Knights of the Round Table, and at their head is Arthur (Caine). Hart, aka Galahad, takes under his wing Eggsy (newcomer Egerton, who makes a strong impression) the son of a fallen colleague. Their Yoda-and-Luke-Skywalker relationship emphasizes the class distinctions that nip at the heels of Kingsman, but gains extra resonance from the casting of Mark Hamill (in heavy makeup) as one the film’s secondary characters. It’s an in-joke, but the kidnapping of Hamill – as himself – is a plot point in the comic book.
A impenetrably ludicrous plot about supervillain Valentine’s scheme to end global warming by tricking the people of the world into killing off one another is made entertaining by Jackson’s lisping megalomaniac who appears as part b-boy and part Internet mogul. Action scenes are a swirl of stylistic flourishes – different film speeds provide both a comic-book alacrity and the slo-mo spectacle of such things as loosened teeth flying through the air. The ultraviolence peaks during an outrageous sequence in a Westboro-style church (scored to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird”) and the extended climax. If these bursts of repetitious mayhem aren’t turnoffs, then the film’s smutty concluding moment seems designed to put a crass final hook in the fanboys’ tether. Yet for all Vaughn’s attention to stylized details, I noticed a number of obvious continuity errors throughout to which Vaughn seems blind. I applauded Vaughn’s directing debut in 2004 with the dandy caper film Layer Cake (starring pre-Bond Daniel Craig), but as the filmmaker’s budgets have grown with Kick-Ass and X-Men: First Class, his films’ coherency and artistry have suffered.