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Review: Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015)

Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015)

Directed by: Matthew Vaughn

Premise: An adaption of the comic book. A streetwise young man (Taron Egerton) is recruited to join a secret society of spies. Meanwhile a technology guru (Samuel L. Jackson) plots a worldwide terrorist attack.

What Works: Filmmaker Matthew Vaughn has distinguished himself in the genres of action and comic book movies. He initially made a splash as a director with 2004’s Layer Cake and 2007’s Stardust. Vaughn entered the superhero genre with 2010’s Kick-Ass followed by 2011’s X-Men: First Class, movies that stood out against a crowded field of comic book material. His movies are humorous without cheapening the action and are Hollywood spectacles that maintain their focus on character and story. Kingsman draws upon many of the films that Vaughn has made so far and the result is a refreshingly fun and engaging superhero-spy movie mashup. This film has a lot in common with Kick-Ass and First Class in that it is an origin story. Eggsy, played by Taron Egerton, is an underachiever who is taken into an elite training program and in the process of becoming a Kingsman he transforms from an unfocused boy and into a disciplined man. That story formula has been seen before but it is done satisfactorily in this film. There are a lot of things working in Kingsman’s favor. One is the way in which the filmmakers mix the traditional and the contemporary. The movie and the Kingsman organization are very British; value is placed upon duty, uprightness, and self-restraint. As the same time the filmmakers mix those traditional values with a contemporary plebian hero and that mergence works. The film also has a lot of colorful supporting characters, starting with Colin Firth as the superspy mentor. Firth is not usually associated with this kind of action adventure filmmaking and putting him in this role is a stroke of genius. The villain of Kingsman is played by Samuel L. Jackson; he’s allowed to be silly without undercutting the stakes of the story and it’s a unique performance in the comic book genre. Kingsman is also remarkable in how fun it is. Since 2005’s Batman Begins comic book films have been self-serious but Kingsman, like Kick-Ass and Stardust, has a sense of humor about itself. The movie channels the Sean Connery and Roger Moore-era James Bond films and it has the same kind of fun with the material.

What Doesn’t: The weakest element of Kingsman is its batch of recruits. The central character, played by Taron Egerton, arrives at a secret facility with another group of candidates all vying for one job. There is an inherent contradiction here. They are all competing for the same job but they are also expected to work as a team. It doesn’t help that the recruits are not very interesting. As a member of the lower class, Eggsy is the odd man out but his competitors are all stuffed shirt stereotypes and the filmmakers don’t do anything interesting between the upper and lower class characters. Eggsy himself is not all that interesting. Taron Egerton is a competent actor but he is frequently overshadowed by the rest of the cast, especially Colin Firth, Mark Strong, and Samuel L. Jackson. Also underutilized is Sophie Cookson as a fellow recruit. She gets even less characterization than Egerton. As a Matthew Vaughn picture it is also notable just how much of Kingsman echoes or borrows from X-Men: First Class. The Kingsman headquarters is essentially the Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters, complete with a mansion and a jet, and much of the training process is lifted right out of First Class. It’s disappointing to see a director who is otherwise as fresh and interesting as Matthew Vaughn paying homage to his own work.

Bottom Line: Kingsman is a fun action adventure film. Despite some hiccups in the characterization of its leads, the film is consistently entertaining and it has the gleeful, mischievous energy that defines Matthew Vaughn’s work.

Episode: #530 (February 22, 2015)