Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015)

Kingsman The Secret ServiceGary “Eggsy” Unwin (Taron Egerton) is owed a favour. Seventeen years ago, his father saved the life of a Kingsman (Colin Firth) — a secret agent independent of crown or country — who promised to repay the man’s family in any way he could. When Eggsy is arrested for Grand Theft Auto, having stolen a car belonging to one of his abusive step-dad’s cronies, the Kingsman rescinds the charges and they repair to the pub for a chat. Harry Hart — as he later introduces himself — reveals that it was he who trained Eggsy’s father, and seeing something similar in the younger Unwin offers to enroll him into the service’s training programme. Across the pond, evangelical environmentalist Richmond Valentine (Samuel L Jackson) is planning to tackle the planet’s overpopulation problem with his latest product: a new SIM card capable of hacking the cerebral cortex.

There are many reasons to be excited about Kingsman: The Secret Service — the source material, the cast, the trailer — but perhaps the most enticing factor is the re-partnering of comic-book writer Mark Miller with director Matthew Vaughn and screenwriter Jane Goldman, following their first collaboration, instant cult-classic Kick-Ass. Having successfully celebrated and satirised the superhero genre in equal measure, spawned a sequel and made stars out of Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Chloe Grace Moretz, the triumphant triumvirate have turned their attention to classic spy thrillers in the Bond mould. Sadly, however, while their latest offering is as gloriously over the top and gleefully irreverent as its predecessor, there’s no denying that overall it constitutes something of a disappointment; Kingsman only ass-kicks.

The problems are manifold, and it is worth noting that a small number of them are out of their creators’ control. Whereas Kick-Ass felt vital and innovative, opening less than ten years after Sam Raimi’s Spider-man and making a lasting impact on the genre it mocked, Kingsman is a few decades overdue and already feels somewhat out of date. There’s also the fact that in its absence the spy spoof has become something of a genre in its own right, and while the Miller-standard 15 rating opens up some new avenues of exploration there is a considerable amount of crossover; of jokes that are just as familiar as the cliches the seek to subvert. The weaponised pen, for instance, has a long and illustrious history of its own, and as fun as Eggsy’s introduction to his atypical arsenal is it’s a gag you will likely recognise from everything from Austin Powers to Johnny English.

These are mere quibbles, however, when compared to the issues firmly within the filmmakers’ control. For a movie that pits chav against suave, Brit against hick and tradition against technology, Kingsman: The Secret Service is surprisingly light on conflict. There’s action of course — fisticuffs, gun battles and even a character with knives for legs — but little in the way of actual drama. This impacts both the stakes and the eventual reward, making for a rather unengaging and unsatisfying experience, but it also effects the characters and the comedy. Egerton and Firth play off one another perfectly, but many of the other performers feel more than a little perfunctory. In an attempt to distinguish themselves Jackson affects a lisp and Mark Strong enlists some sort of ambiguous regional accent but there’s no escaping the suspicion that they are playing cartoons — and not particularly funny ones.

Unforgivably for the forces that brought us Hit Girl (and in Vaugh and Goldman’s case, Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique) the female actors fare even worse. In one scene a fellow Kingman recruit quips that ‘Eggy’ only made it into the group by virtue of positive discrimination, but the same could be insinuated about Sophie Cookson (as Eggsy’s main competition) and Sofia Boutella (the aforementioned parassassin). Usually it would be to a film’s credit that it lacks a traditional love interest, except that in this case such levels of characterisation would constitute something of an improvement. Cookson serves no purpose at all, and spends much of the last act strapped to a balloon in the upper atmosphere, while Boutella is little more than a sharper-than-average secretary, at least until her stunt double takes over. Even Eggsy’s mother (Samantha Womack) feels extraneous; her story isn’t resolved until the mid-credits sequence, her son only checking on her and her daughter/his sister’s safety after he has boned a Swedish princess.

It’s frustrating because for the most part Kingsman: The Secret Service is really quite good fun. Vaughn is onto a winner with Egerton, who like Taylor-Johnson before him grounds the craziness without completely contradicting the cliche, while Firth is on fine form throughout, whether he’s showing off his collection of newspaper clippings (‘Brad Pitt Ate My Sandwich’, reads one) or sharing a reheated Big Mac with the film’s big bad. What’s more, there are a number of stand-out scenes that impress in isolation, from a memorable melee in a crackpot Kentucky church to the most spectacular skydiving sequence since Godzilla. It’s just a shame that it’s not always sick in the good sense.

3-Stars

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About popcornaddiction
I am a psychology graduate, a News Writer for HeyUGuys/BestforFilm and, most importantly, a hopeless popcorn addict.

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