Movie Review – Kingsman: The Secret Service

By Michael Vass | February 17, 2015

In this film all at once we are thrown into a modern day homage to the 60’s spy films, while keeping a keen eye on current contemporaries. The film is some of the best parts of James Bond’s classic stylish looks, the hyperkinetic action of Jason Borne, and the time sensitivity of Jack Bauer. At the same time, in a rather over the top fashion, the film is quite aware of the outlandish nature of the world that it takes place in. The combination of all these elements work seamlessly in a film that can please spy film fans of all ages. ** Note, the review may contain spoilers though it generally skips most details about the actions in the film **

Kingsman is immediately aware of the nature of the genre it is in. This is about spies, intrigue, and gadgets. But adding to this standard issue, Kingsman throws in a bit of the fish-out-of-water, a touch of class rivalry and bias, and multiple helpings of the outlandish. Of course the film can’t escape its essentially monochrome view of the world (i.e., Valentine and Gazelle are the only people of color really in the film, and all the people of color in the film are, amazingly, bad guys).

We start the film in 1997, establishing that the tech and gadgets, while improbable (get used to hearing this said about the situations in the film), will not be impossible. The back-story is short. Just enough to establish who our heroes are going to be, and why they are in the circumstances the film will find them in.

Jack Davenport features in this part of the story and the second part of the opening storyline. Once again he is used to effect, but like in Pirates of the Caribbean he is once again underuse and little more than a cameo in the film. Equally, Mark Hamill is a short-lived device used to take advantage of Star Wars fans (and any fan of the animated Batman series – you’ll know it when you hear it). Still both actors make good use of the screen time they are allotted and do well enough to have you wish you had seen more of them in the film. We are also introduced to Gazelle as the top villain henchman, and Valentine with a scheme that is at once insane but tinged with just enough fanatical purity to be improbable.

From this point on the film jumps directly into the plot promised by the popular trailers. We meet Taron Egerton as Gary “Eggsy” Unwin, and the unfortunate turn of events that have become his life. With a flair for the improbable, we learn of his potential and his dedication to family and friends. The movie also establishes that the exposition and character development will be short, with the payoff of a flashy well edited action sequence that is mostly grounded in reality. It’s a balance that the entire film manages to provide with consistency.

With all the players established at this point, the film moves on to the fish out of water phase. Eggsy is put to the test, along with several peers that are mostly predictable plot pieces. The true friend, the nameless bodies that will fall by the wayside, the prick you just want to hit, ect. While predictable the film does showcase our heroes growth and capabilities with some humor and wit.

At the same time, the film neatly wraps up the loose-end from the start of the film while providing a logical pause in the main story. As Eggsy nears the end of his training, we pick up on the actions of the bad guy – Samuel Jackson as Valentine. In a nod to the over the top villains of the Bond films, Valentine is equal parts crazy, logical in a completely fanatical way, and impossibly connected enough to have a bad guy master plan. Climate change fanatics will likely cycle from love to hate over the evil plot that will affect the world. It is obvious, at multiple points in the film, that the writer and director are not fans of the political far left – which may enhance the fun for some audience members but is brief enough and light enough to avoid offending most other viewers. Still, as evil bosses go in spy films, neither the acting nor the plot of Valentine’s rise above Saturday morning cartoon levels. Each scene of Valentine is a bit tired and thankfully brief.

Up to this point, I have said little about Colin Firth’s main character Harry Hart (also known as Galahad, a tribute to the legend of King Arthur that permeates the film). Essentially Harry is a plot device more than anything else. While his motivations are fleshed out, he is the thing to get the film from one point to another, allowing critical exposition on what is happening in the bad guy plot to be revealed to the audience. With that said, Firth does an excellent job of exuding class and professionalism, with bursts of action that feel smooth and genuine to the character. In fact, one of the best scenes in the film is a fight scene featuring Firth, that is one of the best fights in a movie in several years (up with the Borne Supremacy fight against Desh).

As we enter the 3rd act of the film, the competition of training concludes with a battle of will. Eggsy takes a path that makes perfect sense for a soldier, while Roxy makes the choice more in line with the necessity of a spy. I have not touched on Sophie Cookson’s Roxy until this point as it is really unnecessary. As much as she is shown to be a stronger than usual female character, Roxy is ultimately a background player with little to do. She is the counterbalance to the otherwise all male film, and a justification for the rather gratuitous scene at the end of the film (more on that in a moment). Scenes with Roxy are generally pretty good, she is upbeat and looks good without trying to be a classic sexy woman in a spy film. Even so, there is no real need to discuss her in the review as she really isn’t in the film.

The film thus takes us to the wrap-up of life in the Unwin household, until it doesn’t. But we are supplied with the final motivation our hero needs to make the leap into becoming what the film was obvious in building up to from the beginning. Even so, the predictability of the plot is done well and flows in the confines of the genre.

I have to add that there is one action sequence that is completely out of place with the tone of the film. In fact it is so over-the-top that it cannot help but cause the intended laughter in the audience. This deus ex machina is bald-faced absurd. The film takes it to the extreme both as a means to avoid a NC-17 rating for violence and as an escape from the violence being portrayed. As a bonus, those less left leaning will find a few extra moments of giddy laughter.

The final henchman battle is stylish and well choreographed. There is a bit of CGI that is obvious and unrealistic, even for this film. Given that, Sofia Boutella’s Gazelle plays the heavy quite well, even if her motivations are left to the imagining of the audience. With her defeat, Valentine is dispatched with far too much ease. This of course gives a chance to experience another throwback to the Bond-esque style that obviously inspired the film.

This is where the extremely gratuitous scene is thrown in. It’s a few seconds, but it is unnecessary and dare I say uncomfortable. It really can’t be defended for its inclusion, and the gag was already over so it amounts to nothing more than overkill and eye candy that either the director or the studio felt was essential to a modern spy film.

As the credits role, we are finally given the conclusion to the Unwin family situation in a direct copy to an earlier scene of the film. This final bit of story completes the journey for us and confirms the outcome we knew would happen. It also glances over the repercussions of the evil plot, which is again absurd but this is an action spy film so it really is par for the course.

If you are a fan of spy films, especially James Bond, you will like this film. It brings back a touch of the class and style that more current spy films have discarded in preference of a grittier more real world look. This is a film that I plan to add to my DVD collection when it becomes available. There is no doubt that it will spawn a sequel (fans of Roxy are sure to get to see her more involved in the action), and is structured in a manner that can more logically allow for another Galahad or Lancelot or other spy to focus a feature length film on.

I would give this an 8 out of 10.

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