Following the success of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy, it seemed that everything had to be subjected to the grim and gritty touch. Even one of the most absurd and colorful film franchises ever, James Bond, has distanced itself from its past, opting to adopt a serious tone over its past form of pop escapism. Aside from the colorful entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Matthew Vaughn has been behind some of the best examples of modern pop escapism. When the X-Men franchise was a dead and buried following the awful Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Vaughn breathed new life into the franchise with X-Men: First Class. The best X-Men film yet, First Class reinvigorated interest in the mutant group with its skillful balance of colorful costumes, humor, and drama. Sadly, Vaughn didn’t return for Days of Future Past, which took on a much darker tone than its predecessor. Fortunately, Vaughn chose to make Kingsman: The Secret Service, which is a lively, profane take on the spy genre.
Harry Hart (Colin Firth) is a member of an elite, secret spy organization called the Kingsmen. Taking on code names from the Knights of the Round Table, they’ve secretly been saving the world for decades. After a member is killed trying to rescue the kidnapped climate professor James Arnold (Mark Hamill), the search begins for a new recruit. Hart seeks out Eggsy (Taron Egerton), the hooligan son of a fallen comrade, and chooses him to be his candidate for their secret spy society. While Eggsy is competing with other youngsters including the smart and capable Roxy (Sophie Cookson), Hart is investigating the tech billionaire Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson), whom they suspect to be behind a number of disappearances around the world. The training sessions may not only decide the next member of Kingsmen, it may decide the fate of the world.
All in all, Kingsman: The Secret Service feels a lot like X-Men: First Class (Wow: Those Titles Are Long), both directed by Matthew Vaughn and written by Vaughn and Jane Goodman. Like First Class, Kingsman is about a group of youngsters learning how to work as a team in a mansion with near unlimited resources. Each film has a real pulse, with character, action, laughter, and good drama to spare. Much in the same way that Harry Hart is representative of a stiff, dignified England of old yet has his eyes towards the future, Kingsman carries itself much in the same way. It’s a cheeky spy film throwback but with a certain endearing vulgarity and over-the-top violence that’s unmistakably modern. More than anything, it’s a fun film that is more like a James Bond film than anything starring Daniel Craig.
As much as the Goldman-Vaughn script and Vaughn’s assured direction drive the film, it’s the fantastic ensemble cast that brings the whole film together. Firth brings that proper Victorian stiff upper lip to Harry Hart. He’s able to simultaneously work as a British gentleman and ass-kicking badass. Egerton brings a South London edge to Eggsy, like he’s a missing character from Attack the Block. While other supporting players including Michael Caine and Mark Strong are good, it’s Samuel L. Jackson who steals the show. As a larger than life tech billionaire with a grand vision and unique vocal inflection, Jackson gives his most captivating and entertaining performance since Django Unchained. Of course, Jackson’s role is aided by having Sofia Boutellla’s Gazelle by his side. Her combination of sexy and deadly wouldn’t feel out of place in a Roger Moore Bond flick. Then again, Jackson’s Valentine wouldn’t be out of place amongst the more charismatic Bond villains of old.
Kingsman: The Secret Service carries itself with a vulgar swagger. More than anything, it’s just a damn fun time at the cinema. This is a film that wears its R-rating on its sleeve. There are no pretentions at play, no worrying about minor plot holes; Kingsman is more than comfortable in its own skin. This is a very entertaining action film that manages to explore themes of teamwork, guilt, parental relationships, and class bias. Kingsman is an exceptional piece of entertainment.