I read a great interview from Daniel Craig recently amongst all the announcements of the next Bond film. When asked why the franchise had turned so dark and gritty within his era his response was worthy of several vodka martinis and a standing ovation. Quite simply because “Mike Myers f***** us!”. The mass success by Myers Bond movie ridiculing Austin Powers films meant that any attempt to shift 007 back into ludicrous speed would send him through the trap door and into the critical shark tank (with lasers of course) faster than he can say “pussy baby”. This left the helmsmen of the Craig era with one clear direction of survival. To get as far away from the spy who shagged them as possible to re-launch with a new backbone of realism...... or did it? While the idea of bringing the fun lighter elements back into Bond is a clear mission impossible; with some Ethan Hunt level script and story acrobatic insanities they may just have pulled it off. Did they in fact just play it too save rather than embodying the gambling and winning qualities of their cultural icon? In the right skilled hands is there life in the fun spy film yet to be found? Matthew Vaughn (Kick Ass, Stardust) certainly seems keen to roll the dice in Casino Goldmember as his new film, Kingsman: The Secret Service, may just be the boldest blockbuster move this decade but the result..... a bizarrely outrageous cocktail of the old school spy world mixed with ultra-violence and borderline psychotic dark humour that tastes involuntarily joyous all the way down. All hail the Kingsman.
The young gifted but troublemaking Eggsy (Taron Egerton – debut) is recruited by the suave gentlemen spy Harry Hart (Colin Firth – The Kings Speech, Before I Go To Sleep) to join a well mannered secret international covert affairs organisation known as Kingsman. Together they must stop the eccentric billionaire Richmond Valentine (Samuel L Jackson – just about everything) from wiping out the world’s population.
Now despite the general premise Kingsmen very quickly shows that it’s still capable of taking itself seriously when required as shown in its early tragedy setup and in a number of small doses throughout some of which are very effective. Yet it’s when embracing the silly that Kingsman really becomes a class above its rival spies. You can see a hell of a lot of Vaughn’s Kick Ass in The Kingsman’s action sequences yet the prior Hit Girl style lunacy has been cranked to bonkers levels of insanity that moulds your face into a smiling equivalent of The Ring victims while letting out an inaudible squeal of delight; well attired gentlemen and blade legged amputee henchmen go at in visceral camera wrenching lightning paced fights, “run and gun” devastations and endlessly cool bullet time slows. This is a visual action style like nothing we’ve ever seen before. What’s more it doesn’t spare the blood, eking everything it can out of a 15 rating which is such a refreshing change from the endless 12a onslaught we get from modern comic book blockbusters (Kingsman is a 2012 comic adaption). Then there’s the moment like a stun bullet to the face when you realise who’s behind all this carnage...... Colin “rom-com and drama king” Firth! In one stand out mass riot sequence we follow him against dozens of foes one after another for several minutes delivering more carnage than a whole year of Jason Statham films. Vaughn has given Mr bloody Darcy a bigger body count than Kill Bill’s Bride. It’s like discovering your mum was a page 3 girl. It’s enough to make you think the cinema staff spiked the Coke Zero with LCD all while fixing a permanent grin to your face. Even beyond the action the dark humour frequently delivers some jaw dropping moments such as a mass kill switch that becomes a musical Dullex advert or the notion of our hero Eggsy doing his duty for Queen, country and anal sex. It’s a clear distinctive and utterly fabulous production style of great director keen for The Kingsman been viewed as his film (he turned down directing X-Men Days of Future Past to make it). It even manages to have fun with the often mocked spy movie staples such as product placement such as deliberately name checking drink brands or a very surprising dinner menu. “Those old Bond films” are frequently name checked and used like a dart gun wrist watch in the Kingsman’s arsenal; both to embracing and contrasting them as a number of characters literally state “this isn’t that kind of movie”.
Yet sadly there are some areas of the gentlemen’s attire with more of a Primark label hanging off them. While the second half is so good you’ll want to cry into your exploding handkerchief (not recommended unless that ugly) the first is decidedly more inconsistent as Kingsman tries to take on too many elements to its story. There are still tons great scenes and moments throughout but the training and selection process aspects of following Eggsy into Kingsman induction just feel more generic and lacking the creativity shown elsewhere. In the same way seeing Firth branch off to keep the villain plot moving also lacks that debonair refinement. It’s like seeing Wayne Rooney score a tap in first goal before leaping 9 feet into the air to smash home a second with an overhead kick that questions the laws of physics. While both hit the back of the net the first feels somewhat diminished by the overly impressive second. Yet its first half does built certain features that will become the heart of the film. The biggest is making Eggsy (no Goldie Lookin Chain relation) so endearing and lovable to us; the troubled youth trying to look after his mum and her baby despite his vile thug of a new step dad. This only gets pushed further the more he finds himself as the common scum in the old boys club being both a continual source of great laughs and creating the idea that he has to rise above his upper class prejudice as much as they do of him.
If you’re going to make a film about British gentlemen spies the likes of Michael Caine and Colin Firth and Mark Strong are wet dream castings (maybe only Tom Hiddleston is missing) which is why it’s so impressive to see young Egerton standing toe to toe with them on just his first feature film. He oozes charm and charisma be it chaved or suited up, convincing in both action sequences and emotional moments. His chemistry with Firth is positively nuclear who himself may just be having the most fun in his entire career and that really comes across. His Harry is blend of familiar past composed roles (even with Kings Speech level swearing) and an all new hunger for violence that feels like he’s had a Clockwork Orange style brainwashing with The Raid on repeat. Michael Caine (The Dark Knight, Interstellar) as the M equivalent just raises the class of the whole affair and Mark Strong (Kick ass, the Imitation Game) is also very enjoyable as Merlin/Q. Samuel L Jackson as villain Valentine is hit and miss. It’s about as anti-badass as you will see the BMF which is fascinating but some of his lispy violence apposed jokes quickly wear thin. His sword legged henchwomen Gazzelle (Sofia Boutella – StreetDance 2) is a Darth Maul. A visual poster girl and arse kicking delight but less convincing outside the fights. The also debuting Sophie Cookson does well as Roxy and a great Mark Hamill cameo is a joyous little comic nod (in which he appears in similar role as himself).
It may take longer than expected to find its dignified stride but the end result is a film so fun that it rivals the enjoyment factor of Guardians of the Galaxy. A love letter to spy films delivered with a knuckle sandwich that gives this year’s Mission Impossible 5 and Spectre a serious hill to climb in the year’s (now seriously interesting) genre showdown. It’s Matthew Vaughn for the third wonderful time in his career showing that all comic book movies don’t have to be the same. It keeps the British end up and cranks 007 up to 0011. A gentleman should never beg.... but please give us a dam sequel!
Recommended for all fans old school spy films and new school comic violence, all those that loved 2010s Kick Ass and anyone confused over gentlemen’s shoes.