Action/Adventure Film Review: "Kingsman: The Secret Service"
Combining Elements Of Several Of His Previous Films, The Director Soars With The Concept And Amps Up The Well-Timed Thrills Without Sacrificing Character Or Nar
James Bond, Jason Bourne and yes, Jack Bauer, be gone! "Kingsman: The Secret Service" is a film that stands as a testament to a filmmaker whose very passion was to watch those flicks, critique the hell out of them, and then come up with something which pushes the boundaries of those flicks while maintaining a devilishly entertaining and cheeky vibe all-throughout. From the action set pieces that director Matthew Vaughn has become widely known in the industry for especially with his previous films - the superhero spoof "Kick-Ass", the pre-bond Daniel Craig star-vehicle "Layer Cake" and, of course, the superhero tent-pole franchise return to form "X-Men: First Class". It should come as no surprise that the helmer of those films lifts a majority of the production elements as well as the camerawork he employed previously and uses them to the hilt for Kingsman. Essentially, it is a medley of fast-paced, bombarding action, corny but still menacing villainy, playful heroism and by god it really pushes the envelope of an R-rating with plenty of comic gore. There are more than several decapitations and one unmistakable scene in a church that'll either leave you speechless or ready to jump on a soapbox, or both.
At the outset, it introduces itself like any spy film would. Shadowy but well-intentioned spy organization has an impossible problem that they can't solve mixed with a murder of one of their own. Now, with time pressed against them, they need to fill the slot with, in this case, the next-generation's best and brightest. That hefty task falls on teenaged troublemaker Eggsy who grew up in the impoverished areas of London to a well-meaning but abused mother and a tyrant of a stepfather who wishes to unleash hell on Eggsy and his mom mostly without any cause or consideration for their lives. We learn that Eggsy has a checkered history not with the law but with life's pursuits. He dropped out of the Marines, for one, despite excelling academically and physically and attempted getting a college degree but didn't stick with it. The only conceivable person who assumes the role of highlighting his underdeveloped talent is Agent Galahad, played convincingly by veteran Colin Firth. He clues Eggsy into his highly covert intelligence operation The Kingsman because he sees such untapped potential in the boy and he wants to save him from any more years in utter squalor. This mere set-up, where Firth (dismissed as a geezer by a gang of drunken barflies with a vendetta) using a bullet-proof umbrella (you heard right!) slings a high-ball glass of scotch at the leaders head and says this line that represents the crux of the balls in this movie: "Are we just gonna stand here all day or are we going to fight?" makes for a giddy good time that is, without a doubt, from start to the last frame, a shot of adrenaline that knows a good punchline in the same way it knows a good martini. Shaken, not stirred.
The amazing thing about this movie is that even though director Matthew Vaughn is drawing from all kinds of the best genre movies - "Dr. Strangelove", "On Her Majesty's Secret Service", "The Bourne Identity" - the characters in this film actually feel fully realized and lived-in, for the most part. You believe that Eggsy has a penchant for making some questionable decisions, but, then again, what young man hasn't? His character alone sets up a dynamic quest for the coming-of-age tale unfolding for us all. Galahad, at first, seems like your typical Bond knockoff until you realize that although he can pretty much kill you without you barely blinking, he isn't this cold-hearted and stoic (Craig's Bond) assassin for hire and his conscience really does ring through in his decisions to carry out such actions. The only one who really seems like a hodgepodge of villainous caricatures that we've all seen in other places and definitely in better forms is Samuel L. Jackson's lisp-y Valentine who just comes off as way too comedic even if his master plan involves breaching the world's cyber-security and using smartphone technology to turn everyone into stark raving monsters ready to murder one another by altering their brain chemistry remotely. It is a genius plan, one that is surely poised to work, but coming from Valentine, I just didn't buy it. So, I definitely need to dock off points for that even if the role signals his most Tarantino-esque bad-guy in quite some time. But I'd much rather re-watch him as Jules in "Pulp Fiction" any day than have to sit through this one-note sketch comedy show of a performance again.
So, this brings me to the action. There is a reason why I titled this post "Action/Adventure Film Review" because despite the smattering of influences at play here it goes really hard for the action but not in the mind-numbing way that Michael Bay or Roland Emmerich action-sequences go. This is anything but monotonous. The set pieces are well-staged as they mix shaky camerawork ("Bourne") with plenty of well-choreographed slow-motion, quick-cuts in the vein of "The Raid" series as well as the high-flying feats of fantasy that were created by Ang Lee's "Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon." Vaughn certainly knows his influences and has studied them well but he brings his own visual panache and rhythm to the scenes as they are tinged with the hilarious one-liners a'la "Kick-Ass" and spotless attention to detail. Yes, the narrative through-line is pretty damn ridiculous, the motivations of the villains are so Dr. Evil ("Austin Powers" series) but if it makes for one heckuva popcorn flick from start to finish than I see no reason to demote it any further.
All totaled, if you are an admirer of the director's previous work especially his latest offerings - X-Men: First Class especially, you will LOVE this film. But, I must warn you, if you are prone to being queasy and experiencing vertigo you best save this one for at-home streaming. That is where technology is going, after all.