Kingsman: The Secret Service is an homage to old school spy flicks if those particular movies from the 60s could have featured lots of gory and video game style violence. This genre of film from Bond to Bourne has turned more serious as of late and Kingsman aims to be the antidote. There are a number of clever moments and there is excitement present, but I could never completely shake the feeling that Matthew Vaughn’s latest often feels about half as cool as it thinks it is. The director takes his Kick-Ass attitude to these proceedings and the result never quite reaches the level of fun of that aforementioned effort.
The Kingsman are a group of British super spies whose London store front tailor shop hides the underground lair of gadgetry and much more. Michael Caine is their leader and Colin Firth one of their veteran agents. The picture begins in the late 90s as one Kingsman saves Firth’s life while losing his own. The deceased’s young son Eggsy (Taron Egerton) is visited by Firth and given a code to call the Kingsman if he should ever be in trouble. Flash forward to seventeen years later and Eggsy is a rebellious and aimless youth who does end up making that call and he’s soon recruited to try out for the organization that his dad died for.
He joins a number of other youth in their lengthy auditions for membership to the Kingsman and these scenes are a bit similar to some in Vaughn’s previous movie, X-Men: First Class. The bad guy in the mix is Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson), a billionaire who aims to wipe out most of the Earth’s population except for a privileged few royals and celebrities (Iggy Azalea is humorously mentioned as one of the survivors). It is the character of Valentine’s and Jackson’s lisping and off kilter portrayal of him that tells you most of what you need to know about the movie. Vaughn and his cowriters wish to harken back to the days of the ridiculous 007 villains. It’s a delicate thing for the screenwriters to get this right while all the over the top Tarantino-esque bloody violence is happening and it doesn’t always succeed. Some of the time, I almost expected Dr. Evil to stand alongside Valentine. Other times the story seems to forget it wants to be a satire at all.
That said, the performers give it their all and it’s particularly amusing to see Oscar winner Firth in a true badass mode. He has one scene located in a Kentucky church that stands as the most memorable. Newcomer Egerton may have a bright future and Jackson definitely seems to be enjoying himself. This is an undeniably stylish exercise and the action centerpieces are directed with the trademark energy we’ve come to expect from Vaughn. On a side note, the climactic battle may have you furiously Shazaming the funky track playing in the background. It’s Give It Up by KC and the Sunshine Band. You’re welcome.
The talent involved with Kingsman is considerable. I just wish I got the same kinetic thrill I received from Vaughn’s Kick-Ass and X-Men: First Class. It tries hard, but this concoction of self aware spoof with cartoonish violence and occasionally tired social and political satire plays more like a curiosity than the success stories of the filmmaker’s previous offerings.
**1/2 (out of four)