Benjamin has been reviewing films online since 2004 and has seen way more action movies than he should probably admit to!
What's the Big Deal?
Kingsman: The Secret Service is an action spy comedy film released in 2014 and is based on the comic book series The Secret Service by Mark Millar & Dave Gibbons. Directed and co-written by Matthew Vaughn, the film follows a young man in south London who finds himself recruited into a top secret spy agency, one with a particular sense of style and finesse. The film stars Colin Firth, Taron Egerton, Samuel L. Jackson, Mark Strong, Sophie Cookson and Michael Caine. The film was developed alongside the comic book series, taking its inspiration from the James Bond series. It was also released alongside a range of clothing, designed to match the costumes and suits seen in the film. The film earned more than $414 million worldwide, making it the most successful of Vaughn's films so far. It led to a sequel - 2017's The Golden Circle - and a prequel film due for release at the end of 2021, The King's Man. Critics were broadly positive about the film, praising the acting, action sequences and dark humour, although the film's use of digital gore and excessive violence drew criticism from some.
What's It About?
During a hostage rescue mission in 1997, trainee secret service agent Lee Unwin is killed after he sacrifices himself to save the life of his trainer, Harry Hart. Wracked with guilt, Hart visits Lee's widow Michelle and their young son Gary and leaves a medal with a contact number engraved on the back. Seventeen years later and Gary, now known by the nickname Eggsy, has grown into a delinquent youth getting into trouble with both the police and thugs at his local pub. Finding himself arrested after joyriding a stolen car, Eggsy uses his one phone call while in custody but finds little comfort as the call is quickly ended.
Before he can process what's happening, Eggsy is released with custody and meets Harry who mentions working alongside his father and hints at the work they both did - working for a clandestine, independent counter-intelligence agency based under a tailor's shop in Saville Row known as Kingsman. With a space in the agency up for grabs, Harry offers Eggsy a chance to better himself and become a Kingsman like his father. And the timing could not be better as a number of wealthy and influential people start disappearing and just what is the link between this and billionaire tech genius Richmond Valentine?
What's to Like?
Parodies of James Bond have been around almost as long as the old boy himself and Kingsman: The Secret Service is the latest in a very long line. But unlike more goofy efforts like Austin Powers, this film works hard to forge its own path by following a character from their everyday life into actual spy work. Egerton makes a fine job of portraying this scruffy street urchin suddenly thrown into a world of gimmicked umbrellas and gentlemen spies - he certainly holds his own against Firth, who holds the copyright on upper-class characters and suits the bespoke tailored mentor role well. Surprisingly, he is also enjoyable during the many action sequences in the film which are comprised of visceral fights, energetic shootouts and over-the-top levels of gore.
Given the levels of comedy in the movie - from Jackson's weirdly lisping, Elon Musk-inspired villain to the numerous nods to the Bond franchise - it's surprising how closely the film sticks to the 007 formula. The film has plenty of gadgets, a quirky henchmen in the ridiculous form of Boutella's Gazelle, improbably convoluted evil schemes and even a closing love scene. But by playing things with a tongue firmly in its bespoke, stylish cheek, it feels like it is cutting a bit deeper as a parody. Mocking the Bond films isn't difficult, of course, but this film does a decent enough job of doing so while still scratching any action film itch a viewer may have.
- Firth worked out for about six months in order to be in peak physical condition for the action scenes and it paid off as he did around 80% of his stunts himself, without using a double. Egerton also completed months of physical training as well as a 'lifestyle change' although he admits that it was just as nice seeing his abs on screen during his shirtless scenes!
- The Kingsman tailor shop is based on an actual tailors on London's Saville Row, Huntsman. Vaughn was partially inspired during a visit to Huntsman when he was being measured for a suit. Filming on location proved difficult but the exterior of the store was used as the exterior of Kingsman seen on screen.
- In a nod to various Bond villains, Valentine speaks with a lisp although this was never intended to be the case. Jackson used the lisp on the very first take filmed and explained to Vaughn that he himself originally spoke with a lisp but overcame it. He also joked that the lisp was the reason Valentine became a villain.
- When Galahad meets Valentine for the first time, he uses the alias Mr De Vere. This is a reference to director Matthew Vaughn whose actual surname is De Vere Drummond.
What's Not to Like?
The filmmaker's intention was to make a fun spy film as they felt that the Bond series had gotten too serious under Daniel Craig's tenure as 007. Unfortunately, they made Kingsman a bit too silly and instead of a proper parody, it just feels like a more violent Bond film from Roger Moore's more light-hearted interpretation. From the ridiculous henchman (henchwoman? Henchperson? Not sure what the correct term would be) with knives for legs that almost nobody acknowledges to the ludicrous inconsistencies of the plot, the film comes across as a goofy celebration of all of the things about Bond we've learned to forget. Combine this with the visceral nature of the action scenes and levels of swearing that would make a sailor blush and it makes the film feel immature, ill thought-out and wildly inconsistent.
There are also some disappointing decisions made with the film's casting. Strong can be a solid and dependable leading actor (track down the otherwise forgettable Welcome To The Punch for evidence) but he's saddled with an accent that veers from Scottish to American to... actually, I'm not sure. Hamill's casting in an otherwise minor role felt unwise as it overshadowed the character's importance and as much as I love Jackson for an actor and a person, I couldn't quite get on board with the concept of him playing a Blofeld-style supervillain with an unexplained aversion to violence. In fact, the film itself forgets about this character trait for a brief second before recovering its composure and putting the mask back on again. As great as the film looks on a superficial level, it has all the depth and originality of a Korean boy band and I expected something a bit more satisfying.
Should I Watch It?
There will be people out there who really enjoyed Kingsman: The Secret Service but I'm afraid I'm not one of them. The film offers plenty of spy movie cliché, blistering action sequences and a star-making turn from Egerton who has certainly delivered on this film's promise. In some ways, it's a tongue-in-cheek tribute to the goofy Bond films of yore and if you liked them then you may enjoy this. But personally I like the latter, more realistic Bond films and by contrast, this film feels old fashioned and not that original. Shame.
Great For: fans of Roger Moore's time as Bond, immature viewers, anyone who hasn't seen a Bond film since Die Another Day
Not So Great For: modern Bond film fans, viewers over the age of 40, non-ADHD sufferers
What Else Should I Watch?
While audiences wait patiently for The King's Man, hopes are high that the series can be given an injection of fresh blood. Critics were more divided about the sequel The Golden Circle which relocated the action to the US, introduced an American equivalent which doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me and even more product placement than this first film. I'll be honest, I'm not in any great rush to see it - there are a plethora of spy comedies out there, almost all of them mocking the Bond films in some way or another. Johnny English is the most obvious parody, featuring Rowan Atkinson's rubber-faced buffoon engaging in 'hilarious' spy shenanigans that younger viewers will probably enjoy more than their parents. Other examples include the middling Spy, the big screen revival Get Smart and the family friendly Spy Kids franchise.
However, there is a slight issue with mocking the Bond films and quite simply, the reason is that a number of official Bond entries feel like parodies themselves. The majority of these were released during the long Roger Moore-era with the film getting increasingly comedic and silly the longer it went on. Moonraker was the worst Bond film up to that point, a ridiculous sci-fi-flavoured affair that saw 007 on board a private space station shooting lasers in a way that Cubby Broccoli hoped would remind audiences of the recently released Star Wars. The goofiness returned later in Octopussy and while A View To A Kill certainly upped the violence, it still featured a Nazi scientist in an airship threatening Bond with the sort of small, black round bombs that Wile E. Coyote used in his pursuit of Roadrunner. But Moore didn't have exclusivity on silly nonsense as anyone who saw Die Another Day will tell you. With its invisible cars, risible dialogue featuring some of the least subtle innuendoes ever written and ridiculous story of another secret space laser (does anyone at NASA check their radar?), it is probably the lowest point for the entire series - made all the worse by pretending to celebrate the series' fortieth anniversary and instead poking fun at itself.
Harry Hart / 'Galahad'
Samuel L. Jackson
Gary "Eggsy" Unwin
Roxanne "Roxy" Morton
James Spencer / 'Lancelot'
Professor James Arnold
Jane Goldman & Matthew Vaughn*
Release Date (UK)
29th January, 2015
Action, Adventure, Comedy, Spy
© 2021 Benjamin Cox