Kingsman: The Secret Service should be a movie that I hate. It pokes fun at/spoofs old James Bond movies, which I haven’t seen. It features various political messages as it’s subtext. It is based on a Mark Millar comic-book, which means it’s source material seeks to be as juvenile and offensive as possible. Why then, with all these reasons working against it, can I confidently say that Kingsman is one of the best films of the year? Matthew Vaughn.
Vaughn, along with co-writer Jane Goldman, know what they are doing and have crafted a very slick, stylized action film. Kingsman has a great script, bursting with humor, intrigue, and some really fun character moments/development. Beyond the writing, Vaughn is masterful when it comes to framing action scenes, he and his crew know how to build tension while never losing the joy of fictional characters fighting each other. Kingsman is a total win and proves that Vaughn is one of Hollywood’s most valuable talents.
Kingsman is the story of, well, the Kingsmen. They are more than just British secret service. They are more secretive than that. MI6 exists in this world, the Kingsmen are even more mysterious than that. No one knows about the Kingsmen, but everyone benefits from their secret missions. When one agent dies, it falls upon the existing members to nominate a new prospect. Harry Hart (Colin Firth) nominates Eggsy (Taron Eggerton,) a young man with great potential (with no real future in front of him,) for the Kingsman program. As he goes through his training, a world-threatening villain is revealed in the form of a colorfully-dressed, lisping Samuel L. Jackson. This cast is crazy (who knew we needed a Colin Firth action film?) The plot is crazy (it goes for it, a villain who will END THE WORLD!). The action is crazy (see below.) I enjoyed myself the entire runtime of the film, never breaking a smile.
Apart from one other project, Kingsman marks the debut of Eggerton, and the young man is a very talented actor. He is able to communicate that british troublemaker we expect, while also making us believe that this young punk could show class if he is trained to do so. As he grows in the film, we believe it. Yes, he is crass and shows disrespect for authority, but there is something in his performance that makes you hope he can be redeemed. Though it is your standard hero’s journey (young punk gets trained to overcome his past and save the world,) the filmmakers have you rooting for this young man and it is a true joy to see him succeed over his peers.
Back to Matthew Vaughn, the man just flat out gets it. Financing the film through a series of independent investors means that Vaughn gets to call the shots. As a result of minimal studio interference (possibly zero studio interference?), we are given a film that has such a strong voice and it is a breath of fresh air. The current trend in action films is extreme shaky cam and fast editing? Vaughn shoots the scene with a steadicam and stages them as one long take. Spy movies can’t be fun, resulting in uber-serious affairs? Vaughn has his cake and eats it too, creating a colorful spy movie about saving the world while also keeping the audience emotionally invested every step of the way. Studios have limited blockbusters to the PG-13 rating, looking for the widest (most profitable) audience possible? Vaughn proves that an R-rated film can not only be a lot of fun in having over the top action, but serves the story in that it creates a world full of real people speaking in their natural (vulgar) tongue.
Though the source material is from Mark Millar, like Kick-Ass before it, Vaughn and Goldman have elevated the material into something much more than another comic movie. I wouldn’t call Kingsman a spoof of the James Bond franchise of old. Though it does poke fun at certain elements (colorful villains, damsels in distress, ridiculous gadgets), Kingsman plays it so straight that it becomes an homage to spy films of the past. You can tell that the filmmakers love the films they grew up on and wanted to prove that a spy film can still be goofy in the modern age. Yes, the film is goofy and could be considered a “comedy,” but it still features great characters and a smart story.
The screenplay is what I would call a “classic script.” Let me explain. It has everything that should be in a script, all of the elements that you would learn in a screenwriting class. Characters are defined clearly and we understand motivations. There are various pieces of information that are introduced early in the film and are payed off throughout the plot. There are side-characters that aren’t forgotten by the time we get to the end, everyone is involved in one way or another.
These may seem like basic things, but think about various recent movies you have seen. So many of them are missing these “basic” elements and the movies are suffering because of it. Kingsman succeeds in large part to its straightforward screenplay. We have a protagonist. He learns new things. He hits a low point. He overcomes the low point. There is a “twist” of some sort. He (spoilers) saves the day (sorry for ruining the film for you). You may think I’m insulting the film for being so basic, I’m not. I am celebrating an action film that is so confident in its writing that it totally wins.
There are so many other elements at play in the film, including a great “henchman” played by Sofia Boutella. She plays the “muscle” to Sam Jackson’s brainy villain. She is straight out of a Tarrantino film, having her legs replaced with an amputee/blade/weapon of some sort. The film revels in its R-rating, and Boutella’s sword-legs get some wildly graphic action set-pieces.
Though there are other variables to discuss when it comes to Kingsman, I would rather you experience them first-hand. Just know this: the film is a great send-off the spy movies of the past. It is a crazy R-rated adventure featuring vulgarity, violence and then some. It has a real smart script and some of the best action choreography today. With Kick-Ass, Vaughn poked fun at the super-hero genre while also becoming one of the genre’s best entries. Now with Kingsman: The Secret Service, Vaughn proves that he is the master of these films. He wears his references on his sleeves while also carving out something new within this established genre. If you like action (and can take a joke), you may have just found your new favorite film.