Slick action and droll humor make for a winning combination in this spy thriller.
Mockery and riveting cinematography rarely go together. While they aren't mutually exclusive, in most cases one is forsaken for the other. To poke fun at someone or something, directors will often focus on the silly and over-the-top, using even the visuals to build on this and thus leaving artistic endeavour to the wayside. On the flip side, others focus solely on the imagery and the aesthetic of the film such that whatever substance or purpose in its plot is shallow at best. Kingsman: The Secret Service manages to combine both effectively in using the James Bond spy concept with action-packed visuals and eye-catching cinematography, with its tongue firmly planted in its cheek, making it a success.
The film opens on a serious tone as secret agent Harry Hart (Colin Firth), also known by his code name Galahad, messes up in the middle of a mission and costs the life of a team member. Desperate to make up for the guilt he feels, Hart goes to Michelle, the wife of his dead colleague, and while Michelle rejects his attempt to help, Hart leaves a medal with a phone number on the back for Michelle's son Eggsy (Taron Egerton). He tells him a code phrase ("oxfords, not brogues" -- fitting for a gentleman spy) and a promise that if they call, he will help in whatever way he can.
The years pass, and Eggsy has grown up in a working class environment with an unsteady mother and her abusive boyfriend. He has the appearance of an unemployed deadbeat, but it's also clear from the way he soothes his crying baby sister that he is still responsible with much potential that is unfortunately abandoned due to his circumstances. While toeing the line of legal limits of the law with his friends, Eggsy tells them to leave and ends up arrested himself. While in custody, he refuses to give up his friends but needs a way out and remember the medal Hart gave him. He calls the number on the back and is soon released.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the world -- Argentina, to be specific -- Professor Arnold, a climate scientist, has been kidnapped, and a Kingsman, only known as Lancelot, arrives to rescue him. He kills all of the henchmen and prepares to escape with the professor when a woman (Sofia Boutella), identified as Gazelle, with weaponized prosthetic legs kills him. She promptly covers all of the dead bodies and awaits the arrival of Professor Arnold's kidnapper and her boss (Samuel L. Jackson).
Back in London, while hesitantly leaving the police station, Eggsy runs into the ever dapper Hart, who introduces himself as a tailor for a shop called Kingsmen. After a run-in with neighborhood gang, Eggsy concludes that Hart is lying because no tailor could ever fight the way he just did. So Hart introduces him to the true world of the Kingsmen, an independence intelligence agency. Founded in the 19th century, these gentlemen operate internationally at the highest level of discretion, and Hart is looking for a replacement for the now dead Lancelot.
Loosely based on the comic book series The Secret Service, the film takes the typical spy thriller film tropes and subverts them. For instance, there is no moment when the villain captures the good guy, reveals his ridiculous plot for world domination (or some other equally foolish ploy), uses insane methods to torture and/or question him, only for our hero to use his wits to barely escape. Kingsman instead takes these jokes and turns them on their heads then points and laughs, egging the audience to join in.
At the helm of this droll mockery is Colin Firth. He never misses a beat with his perfect timing and debonair abilities to beat up an entire gang of bullies with an umbrella and leave the fight without a wrinkle on his bespoke double-breasted suit. To contrast his suave, gentlemanly charisma, he swears up a storm -- of course in the most sophisticated, unshaken of tones. It's great fun and hilarious. Despite teaming up with such a seasoned actor, up-and-comer Taron Egerton manages to hold his own. He might be a little rough around the edges in his portrayal of the working class Eggsy, but his transformation from a promising but rebellious teen to an ambitious young adult is believable. This is partially because of his ability to deliver every line, both serious and teasing, with ease and also because of that rakish grin that matches the film's "seriously funny" tone perfectly.
The film, as a whole, is not perfect. Director Matthew Vaughn loves his well-choreographed fight scenes a bit too much so they drag a little. The storyline is farfetched, and the relationships between characters lack the substance that they pretend to have. But none of these things deter the film as it is still slick, action-packed and funny as hell, which is its ultimate purpose.
Images courtesy of 20th Century Fox.