Eggs Unwin (Taron Egerton) doesn’t have it easy. Unemployed with few prospects, living in a working class ghetto with his mother and abusive stepfather, often a target of abuse from local thugs. All that changes when he meets Harry Hart (Colin Firth), code name Galahad, who once worked with Eggsy’s deceased father. As it turns out, Eggsy’s father was a member Kingsman, part of a secret group of highly-trained spies that work as an independent intelligence and counter-terrorism agency. Soon, Eggsy is enlisted into training as a Kingsman, all while billionaire Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson) plots a scheme that has the potential to cause chaos on a global scale.
Very loosely based on a graphic novel by Mark Millar, Kingsman: The Secret Service is a giddy, hyperkinetic take on a very, very British style of action film. Director/writer Matthew Vaughn and frequent collaborative partner Jane Goldman draw inspiration not only from classic James Bond films and the spy show The Avengers, but also from modern, metatextual action films like Shoot ‘Em Up and Vaughn’s previous Millar adaptation Kick-Ass. The wit may be as dry as 007’s martini, but the sensibilities are completely Tarantino (a massive brawl in a church rivals Kill Bill’s House of Blue Leaves fight scene for sheer audacity).
While the trailers give the impression that this is yet another entry in the never-ending lineup of young adult “chosen one” books, it’s nothing of the sort. This is a hard-R, blood-and-curse words type of film. The graphic nature of the film is offset both by Vaughn and Goldman’s completely self-aware tone, but also by adorable/hunky lead actor Egerton, who looks like a teenager but is all man. His youthful, unaffected performance easily helps slide the viewer into the Kingsman world. He’s instantly likable without even trying. Firth, likewise is in top form, proving that Liam Neeson isn’t the only “mature” actor with combat skills. Jackson’s performance is fine, a kind of Bill Gates/Kanye West type with a Mike Tyson lisp, but he’s completely overshadowed by Sofia Boutella as Gazelle, his henchman with razor-sharp prosthetic legs. She’s the best Bad Bond Girl ever (sorry Xenia Onatopp).
The film’s overall politics are not subtle, and the whole piece is set up as a snobs-vs-slobs fight on many layers (although it leads to one of the most amusing set pieces in the film’s climax). The film also doesn’t do anything new with the general structure of the spy/action genre or the “hero training” story arc, but Vaughn knows that and doesn’t have pretensions otherwise. The key is all in presentation, and Matthew Vaughn has that down to a fine art. He’s once again delivered a thoroughly enjoyable, entertaining action film that finds substance in its style and never lets go of it.
8 out of 10 / A-