Film review: KINGSMAN – THE SECRET SERVICE, from ‘Built For Speed’

Kickass and X-Men First Class director Matthew Vaughan’s latest film, Kingsman: The Secret Service is a slick, inventive, action-packed but hollow pastiche of British spy movies.

Drawing on the Bond films, the 1960’s TV show The Avengers and Men in Black, the film concerns a secret organisation of tweed-coated gentlemen spies known as The Kingsman who operate outside the reach of that annoying regulatory killjoy the government and assassinate people in foreign lands supposedly for the good of humanity.  They see themselves as 21st century knights and adopt names such as Lancelot and Arthur.  A prologue establishes a connection between one Kingsman, Gallahad (Colin Firth) and criminally inclined youth Gary ‘Eggsy’ Unwin (Taron Egerton) the son of Gallahad’s deceased Kingsman colleague.  When ‘Eggsy’ reaches adulthood, Galahad attempts to save him from a life of petty crime and tracksuit-wearing by giving him the chance to join The Kingsman.  Despite feeling inadequate and out of place among the snobbish, private school boy recruits ‘Eggsy’ becomes the world’s only hope when a megalomaniacal villain named Valentine (Samuel L Jackson) uses his technological skills and vast wealth to enact a deadly plan.

This film’s plot is a thin excuse for a succession of noisy, pumped-up, hyper-stylised action sequences.  The fight scenes, which mostly involve a bespectacled Colin Firth beating the snot out of hapless dopes and a Kill Bill-style female assassin slicing people to bits with razor sharp prosthetic leg blades, are completely unrealistic but as in Kickass, they’re still dynamic and at times nasty.  Backed by a pounding hard rock soundtrack the action scenes basically amount to violence porn.

The problem with Kingsman is that it tries to have a bet each way; it assaults the viewer with gratuitous violence and then tries to amuse them with quirky humour about the rules of being a gentleman spy.  Vaughan can’t decide if he wants the film to be an Austin Powers-style parody of the spy genre or a violent hi-tech action film that embraces all the genres clichés.  Consequently, the film’s gory violence negates the humour and good will established in other scenes.

Similarly, this film is morally ambiguous.   The so-called heroes are meant to be saving the world but they’re prepared to kill vast numbers of people in the process.  Also, the film’s attitude to issues like global warming is unclear.  Kingsman acknowledges global warming as a vital concern but in the film the man trying to stop this environmental calamity is the villain, Valentine.  The film is also ambiguous in its stance on the aristocracy of which the Kingsman are an outgrowth.  At one point Firth criticises his boss Arthur (Michael Caine) for being an archaic snob then the film endorses upper-class values and aesthetics.

A cast packed with heavyweights helps matters although these iconic actors aren’t always given the material they deserve.  Firth is at times amusing as he parodies his pensive and mildly contemptuous English gentleman persona although his role is one-dimensional.  Mark Strong draws on his street smart tough guy image to good effect as the Kingsman’s no-nonsense training officer Merlin. Michael Caine, however, barely has a chance to establish his character of Kingsman supermo Arthur.  Samuel L Jackson seems to be having fun as the loopy Valentine but why he chooses to speak with a lisp and dress like Flava Flav is a mystery.  Also, in an odd piece of casting Star Wars’ Mark Hamill appears briefly as a sweaty professor.  Amid these big names Taron Egerton understandably has a tough time making an impression.  He does an adequate job as a working class lad caught up in a bizarre world of English elites but as the alleged hero he lacks charisma. 

Thoughtful film-goers will seriously question this film’s morality but in the end Kingsman is meant to be a bit of a lark and fans of over-the-top action will probably find it an enjoyable ride.

Nick’s rating: ***.

Genre: Action/ comedy.

Classification: MA.

Director(s): Matthew Vaughan.

Release date: 5th Feb 2015.

Running time: 129 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast. 


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