A sleek, witty, and adrenaline-pumping spy romp that defies genre conventions.
BY RYAN MILOWICKI
Like bunting in baseball, the spoof has become one of modern cinema’s lost arts. Despite living in a world more self-aware than it’s ever been, we’ve really lost touch with a genre that has provided my childhood with some of its most memorable films. Matthew Vaughn has been known for pushing the envelope of genre in his four prior directorial efforts, and his fifth film Kingsman might just be my favorite one yet. Perfectly straddling the line between being a comedic send-up of James Bond films and being a darn good spy-action film in its own right, Kingsman is the perfect antidote to the traditional slog of February in theaters.
Developing the world of a covert British organization of gentlemen spies, the film centers around the rigorous audition and initiation process to becoming a prodigious member of the Round Table (King Arthur parallels abound). At the center of it all is Harry Hart, code name Galahad (Colin Firth), a debonair mixture of wit and physicality. When his colleague Lancelot is killed, he nominates a streetwise delinquent named Eggsy (newcomer Taron Egerton), in stark contrast to the upper-crust youths put forth by the other Kingsmen. The trials and tribulations of the training quickly collide with a nefarious plan from eccentric billionaire Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson), who seeks to severely trim the Earth’s population in an attempt to stop humanity’s destruction of the planet.
From its dizzying array of gadgets, to its quippy megalomaniac villain, Kingsman borrows more than a few plot points from the prototypical Bond screenplay. But, by keeping its tongue firmly planted in its cheek, the film never manages to feel derivative, making it feel like a fresh (and yes, satirical) take on the spy genre. Take the young Eggsy, for example. The duality of the posh Victorian feel of the Kingsmen stands in stark contrast to his rough urban upbringing makes a very interesting commentary of the oft-idealized image of Britain in most spy films. His journey to reconcile his ties to the life he leaves behind with his aspirations for something more make him far more complex than the Connery/Moore-era Bond, who thrived on his one-note bravado. Egerton is a diamond in the rough, and a remarkable find for this film. He exudes equal levels of energy, action prowess, and charm, and I truly believe that he has the chops to be a star in the future. Despite being billed as a showcase for Firth and Jackson, it was Egerton who really made the film click for me.
That isn’t to say that Colin Firth and Samuel L. Jackson don’t put out their finest work either. Seeing Firth in an action film feels bizarre at first, but extremely quickly becomes right on a whole array of levels. We’ve always loved him for his verbal dexterity, and a role like this gives him a comedic chance to quip to his heart’s delight, all the while beating the living hell out of anyone who stands in his way (a certain extended sequence hilariously set to “Free Bird” makes this point abundantly clear). As a mentor and as an action hero in his own right, the character of Galahad is a wonderful addition to the film. And as for Jackson, he received far more screen time than I would have been led to believe. By giving him a chance to steal more than a few scenes, we also get to see the motivations of Valentine, which extend beyond the usual “destroy the world because I’m evil and that’s just what evil guys do.” In addition, his comical aversion to blood and violence provides Kingsman with one of its most consistent running jokes.
Vaughn directs Kingsman with a rush of confidence, from its frenetic pacing to its constant “yes, we did just go there” moments. You won’t find too many conventions in this film, and just when you think you’ve figured out the rules of the world, a huge fight scene will break out to the tune of K.C. and the Sunshine Band’s “Give It Up” (my personal favorite of the band’s). 129 minutes fly by thanks to excellent pacing, converging storylines, and an editing style which both accentuates the impressive choreography and lets us soak in the cartoonish levels of violence on display. Did this movie lose some profitability by being R instead of PG-13? Probably. But what it gained was an unshakable personality, and the film feels like the cinematic equivalent of playing a particularly violent video game with your friends; continuous fits of martial arts and gunfire punctuated by rapid-fire bursts of profanity. Throw that aesthetic into the pot with the posh allure of the tuxedo-adorned spy, and you have an experience which looks and feels unlike anything I’ve seen in a long time.
The more I talk about Kingsman, the more I realize that I’m really drifting away from treating it as a spoof. That really is a credit to the uniqueness of the film, as it takes a concept as simple as “let’s turn James Bond into an R-rated comedy” and runs with it to the ends of the earth. It’s safe to say that Matthew Vaughn is now 5-for-5 in crafting memorable experiences from familiar ideas. And I think Kingsman might just be the best of his work yet, blending the sleek action of Layer Cake and X-Men: First Class with the acerbic wit of Stardust and Kick-Ass. It might take second fiddle to 50 Shades Of Grey this weekend in terms of popularity and financial intake, but make no mistake that Kingsman is the best time you’ll have in a movie theater this winter.
RYAN’s RATING: 3.5 Stars out of 4