Like his earlier film Kick Ass, director Matthew Vaughn’s adaptation of graphic novel Kingsman: The Secret Service is a delightfully disreputable blast of stylised ultra-violence with a smattering of knowing crassness that is most emphatically not for the easily offended. Whilst it lacks the satirical bite of Kick Ass, Kingsman is definitely cut from the same iconoclastic cloth.
The story, scripted by the always excellent Jane Goldman, concerns Gary Unwin aka Eggsy (Taron Egerton), a disenchanted youth from a rough London high rise who gets arrested for a spot of joyriding. His case comes to the attention of gentleman spy Harry Hart aka Galahad (Colin Firth), who decides to take the young whippersnapper under his wing for personal reasons, enrolling him in a deadly training programme for “Kingsman” agents. Meanwhile, billionaire Valentine (Samuel L Jackson), a squeamish megalomaniac with a speech impediment, is kidnapping various celebrities, including Scandinavian princesses and a scientist who looks suspiciously like Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) for nefarious, world-endangering reasons. Together Eggsy and Galahad join forces to quash Valentine’s, as Galahad puts it, “far-fetched theatrical plot”.
Essentially this is a pre-Daniel Craig James Bond film with the violence and swearing dialled up to 15 (arguably 18) certificate levels. Yet in spite of these affectionately spoofish elements (according to Galahad, present day spy movies are just too serious), this is a very funny and exciting thriller in its own right with some breath-taking set pieces and a real sense of jeopardy. There are one or two genuinely unexpected twists, and one sequence in particular involving a Westboro Baptist type church is so eye-poppingly violent, so audacious, and so downright shocking, it alone makes the movie worth seeing – again, it must be stressed, if you are not easily offended.
Yet beneath all the knowingly lurid elements, Kingsman is concerned with what it really means to be a gentleman, ie how it has nothing to do with class or privilege and everything to do with how one should conduct oneself with politeness, courage, loyalty and honour. This rather quaint but nevertheless laudable underlying morality sometimes seems at odds with the relentless profanity, cartoon violence and one particularly crude gag near the end. Nevertheless, Vaughn dedicates the film to his mother, who apparently taught him to be a gentleman.
The cast are all good, with Firth displaying both wit (expected) and physicality in action scenes (unexpected). Samuel L Jackson is terrific, and there are a few good bit parts for the likes of Michael Caine, Mark Strong and Jack Davenport. Sofia Boutella also deserves a special mention as Gazelle – a deadly henchman with razor sharp bionic legs. However the film ultimately belongs to Egerton, whom I suspect could go on to great things after his breakthrough role here.
All things considered, Kingsman: The Secret Service is a blast of ridiculously violent fun for those who won’t be offended by it.