Genre: Action, Adventure, Comedy
Directed by: Matthew Vaughn
Starring: Colin Firth, Michael Caine, Taron Egerton, Samuel L. Jackson
There’s a scene midway through Kingsman: The Secret Service, Matthew Vaughn’s fun but forgettable flight of fancy, in which Colin Firth’s gentleman spy and Samuel L. Jackson’s colourful megalomaniac discuss the current spy movie climate. “Nowadays they’re all a little serious for my taste,” says Firth, “give me a far-fetched theatrical plot any day”.
Despite being painfully obvious, it’s a very telling line that echoes the views once expressed by many Bond fans following the darker Daniel Craig reboot Casino Royale. And, had Kingsman been made around the same time, then it would no doubt have garnered great plaudits from those who bemoaned the grittier, grizzly new Bond. Following the success of Skyfall though, the more mature spy film looks to be in vogue once more. Making this ludicrous lamentation towards the loss of the Roger Moore/Pierce Brosnan era feel quite redundant.
It doesn’t help that the film itself is a bit of a mess. Vaughn has adapted the screenplay, with the help of long-time collaborator Jane Goldman, from the graphic novel written by Mark Miller and Dave Gibbons. And, to the credit of the director, Kingsman is a film that ceremoniously salutes the spy genre, with nods and in-jokes aplenty aimed at fans of everything from Bond and Bourne to Smiley and Palmer. The problem is that Vaughn never seems too sure about what he wants to accomplish with Kingsman; a problem he didn’t have when making his far superior sendup of the superhero genre Kick-Ass. Is he simply making a standalone espionage flick, or telling the origin story for a new superspy franchise?
For the most part he seems to settle upon the latter. Meaning that much of Kingsman is weighed down with watching the film’s other chief protagonist Eggsy (a more than likeable Taron Egerton) attempt to earn his stripes as a Kingsman agent having been recruited by Firth’s Harry Hart. Cue a course of tedious training scenes that are only really memorable for including an array of heavy-handed and infuriatingly simplistic classist stereotypes.
For much of the time, Vaughn struggles to compensate for the pitfalls of the theatrical plot, sluggish pace and clunky exposition. Much of the CGI feels ropey and unfinished, which is bizarre given how long the film was delayed. Barefaced product placement is shoehorned in as often as is physically possible. And even the inclusion of Samuel L. Jackson as the supposedly maniacal maniac Valentine does little to brighten your ever-darkening mood. His predominantly phoned-in performance, unthreatening nature and superfluous speech impediment frustratingly failing to stir the film’s dwindling spark.
Shining with more flare and impact than a rocket launcher, it’s Colin Firth’s effortless embodiment of the traditional gentleman spy that truly ignites the film. As veteran agent Harry Hart, Firth encapsulates the image and channels the charm of Jonathan Steed and James Bond in one. Traditionally a reserved actor, the British acting icon clearly has a ball throughout, letting loose with gleeful gusto during a succession of barnstorming, bone-shattering and bullet-ridden action sequences.
It is when the film pulsates with such galvanizing energy that it truly comes in to its own. The third act in particular fires off on all cylinders as Eggsy, accompanied by other Kingsman agents (including Mark Strong as the joyfully straight-faced Merlin), faces off against Valentine in a mountaintop lair that Ernst Stavro Blofeld would be proud of. Jokes fly at the speed of bullets and heads gratuitously explode with ecstatic elation.
No matter how hard Vaughn tries though, there are just never enough moments like this to counterbalance the mélange of muddled ideas and staled story that makes up too much of the Kingsman running time. Give us a blisteringly paced and intelligently written Bond film any day!