Kingsman: The Secret Service May Be The Best Dressed Action Comedy You'll Ever See

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Kingsman starts 2/13/15.

My favorite moments as a film critic are the times when I take my seat at a theater and think, “Good grief, why on earth did I accept this review opportunity? This is gonna be awful!” And then I’m completely wrong and I couldn’t be happier. The first time I can really remember this happening was when I saw “Scott Pilgrim vs The World,” a film adaption of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Ameri-manga comic. I sat that mumbling to myself about how bad that movie was going to be, and by the time it was over I declared it the best thing I’d seen in years.

“Kingsman: The Secret Service” is similar in some ways. It wasn’t at all what I expected, which was a tepid attempt to bridge some perceived gap between “Spy Kids” and “Skyfall.” I feared a “tween” spy movie would lack the teeth of recent James Bond installments and yet be a little uncomfortably mature for the kiddies. I hadn’t known much of anything about the source material prior to seeing it—the film is based on an independent comic by British comic veteran Dave Gibbons and Scottish comic writer Mark Millar. I purposely avoid preview clips like the plague but managed to see one for this and it lowered my expectations dramatically.

Wouldn’t you know it? I liked it—I liked way more than I thought I would. I love when that happens.

The Kingsmen are a select cadre of super-spies, seemingly made up of Englishmen but reportedly independent of any government. They are highly trained and resourceful, utilizing classic and occasionally updated gadgets such as the gun-umbrella or cigarette lighter grenades, and above all else, they’re dapper gentlemen. Codenamed after Arthurian knights, they are led by Arthur (Michael Caine), tech wizard Merlin (Mark Strong) and top agent Galahad (Colin Firth). After the murder of agent Lancelot (Jack Davenport), the Kingsmen each recruit a replacement to compete with other candidates for the Lancelot role. Director Matthew Vaughn is on familiar ground here as “The X-Men: First Class” film he helmed a couple years back similarly depicted the training of and competition between super-agents (mutant superheroes in that case). Where his take on Marvel’s beloved mutants was safe for all ages, “Kingsman: The Secret Service” is equally exciting but much raunchier and foul-mouthed. Would you expect anything less when your “Bond villain” is Samuel L. Jackson, parodying a long line of erstwhile Doctor Evils?

While the movie seems to start out as a Colin Firth action vehicle—and the Oscar winner does figure prominently in some over-the-top action scenes—the film belongs to 25 year old English actor Taron Egerton, who plays Eggsy Unwin, the unlikeliest of gentleman spy candidates and Galahad’s nominee due to an old debt to Eggsy’s father. He slowly evolves from world-beaten street punk to world-saving hero. He reminded me of a younger Leonardo DiCaprio, if Leo wouldn’t take himself quite so seriously and enjoy the silly mayhem of a comic book adaption. Samuel L. Jackson is generally still Samuel L. Jackson, but he talks with a lisp throughout that drew a few chuckles. The speech impediment was all Jackson’s idea, reportedly. After he did it the first time, Vaughn apparently asked him to name a badass with a lisp. Jackson immediately replied, “Mike Tyson.” Irrefutable logic wins every time. Dancer and actress Sophia Boutella plays Jackson’s right hand woman—every billionaire megalomaniac has one—and she’s pretty fun to watch. She’s got a very Quentin Tarantino vibe about her. I wonder if that was a Jackson suggestion as well. Firth was surpringly effective in the action sequences, and Michael Caine is always great. Thee gentlemen eated next to me at my screening were fairly close to my age, I believe, but neither seemed to recognize the once and future Jedi Mark Hammill in his role, which surprised me. I recognized the best Joker actor ever straight away. I would have liked to have seen more of Jack Davenport, who sounded a little bit like Alan Rickman and Benedict Cumberbatch. 

Having not read the comic—I admit I hadn’t even heard of it before the credits rolled—I can’t speak to how closely Vaughn kept to the source material. On its own merits, and provided you don’t go into thinking you’ll be watching 007 or Jason Bourne, “Kingsman: The Secret Service” offers some solid laughs, some surprisingly good action and easily one of the most hilarious mass murders you will ever see. It’s all presented in two glorious dimensions, so no need for glasses not prescribed by your optometrist. With very coarse language, graphic violence and brief nudity, this film is not for kids—not all comic book adaptions are child safe.  Leave your lofty expectations in the car, grab your favorite movie snacks and enjoy this surprisingly fun spy homage/spoof.

Grade: 
5.0 / 5.0