The winter movie season is infamous for being Hollywood’s dumping ground for all of the movies that they have either given up all hope on, or expect little performance or success from. Kingsman: The Secret Service is a shining exception to this rule, as it’s not only a well-directed and well-acted action film, but also a non-stop thrill ride of an adventure that wonderfully pays homage to the spy movie genre’s greatest strengths.
At first glance, however, that’s not entirely clear. The story of struggling everyman Gary “Eggsy” Unwin going from zero to hero is not an original one, but thanks to director Matthew Vaughn’s bold and energetic direction, Kingsman quickly proves to be much more than a simple James Bond knock-off.
Much of Kingsman’s success can be traced back to Vaughn, as his passion for the spy genre is apparent. One of the film’s greatest strengths is watching how Vaughn both plays along with and then subverts the audience’s expectations at the last minute. While the plot, as Samuel L. Jackson’s delightfully nutty villain professes, is a little “far-fetched,” it’s delivered in such an electrifying format that it’s hard to not fall in love with it.
The action sequences are fast, hectic, and hilariously over the top, as each subsequent set piece seems intent to one-up whatever came before. The fighting choreography is also top-notch, and delivers some of the most beautifully directed, performed, and downright brutal fight scenes I have seen in the past year.
Kingsman seems to revel in its own special brand of hyper-violence, but thankfully never takes itself seriously enough to make the bloody combat playing out on screen feel like anything other than a dramatically entertaining extension of reality. It still might be a little off-putting for some, but for the most part the action has a nice balance of exaggerated violence mixed with the occasional bit of intense realism.
This rings true for many of the characters as well, who are often endearingly familiar, but offer just enough of their own originality to stand out. It’s true that most of the cast can easily fit into some kind classic archetype, but in most of their cases, that only makes them that much easier to root for and keeps things from ever feeling too heavy or serious.
Eggsy, played by Hollywood newcomer Taron Egerton, is a fantastic protagonist, and his unique voice and brand of humor make him an immediately likable hero who has some great repartee with many of his costars. Egerton is also able to hold his own incredibly well in both the action and story moments, which is quite a feat considering he often works alongside the likes of Michael Caine, Mark Strong, Samuel L. Jackson, and his mentor, Colin Firth’s character Harry Hart.
Colin Firth is just about flawless as the well-mannered veteran spy, and he seems to operate on an endless stream of charisma and subdued intensity that make him one of those characters that you just can’t take your eyes off of. This rings especially true in his fight scenes, where Firth truly shines and delivers some of the film’s most shocking and exhilarating moments.
Samuel L. Jackson is another stand-out as the gleefully insane Valentine, whose ultimate goal is to eradicate the disease of mankind from the face of the planet. He’s a very self-aware villain, who even comes with an elaborate underground lair and deadly sidekick, but his unique quirks, such as his intense fear of blood, make him an entertaining and delightfully strange antagonist.
Kingsman is a very self-aware kind of movie, almost to a fault at times, but it’s not afraid to poke fun at the very same cliches that it so openly embraces. There’s even a bit of sardonic social commentary peppered throughout that helps add a subtle layer of real world relatability to the story. It’s not anything profound, to be sure, but a nice touch regardless.
If there’s anything holding Kingsman back from perfection, however, it would be its tone, which is just as erratic as its fight scenes, and never really settles on what it wants to be. Some scenes are so over the top that they become outright comical, while others seem to be taken from a different movie altogether. It’s an unfortunate distraction at times, but one that doesn’t really detract from the overall experience.
This was most noticeable in a particular scene inside of a church, which features Colin Firth’s character engaging in an all-out bloodbath of a fight with an entire congregation of crazy people. It’s one of the movie’s stand out fight scenes, simply because it’s such a fantastically directed sequence, but it’s also a bit at odds with itself, and it can’t seem to decide if it wants to make the audience laugh at the absurdity of it all or gasp in shock at the intense levels of violence.
In the end, Kingsman is a violent, over the top, and often hilarious action flick that delivers just as many laughs as it does extravagant action scenes. It wonderfully embraces the best spy movie tropes available, but is never ruled by them, and instead takes every opportunity to take the audience’s expectations and turn them right on their head. If you’re looking for a fun escape from reality, then this is the movie for you.