Kingsman: The Secret Service takes the spy movie to a new level
Colin Firth breaks out of his romantic lead niche to become an action movie star in ‘Kingman: The Secret Service,’ and we’ll call it one of the top ten films of the year right now.
Spy movies have been around almost as long as the cinema. Great Britain produced the first spy movies during the silent era and the Great War (or World War I). Master German director Fritz Lang contributed to the genre (and pretty much set the standard) with his movie Spies in 1928. Lang’s Dr. Mabuse films also contained a host of spy film elements. Alfred Hitchcock, in his pre-US films of the 1930s, helped popularize the genre with a variety of films including The Man Who Knew Too Much, Secret Agent and Sabotage.
Spy movies became big in the US during World War II and into the Cold War era with the introduction of the first movie super spy, James Bond. Imitators came and went and Bond has endured but fans have to wait until November before his next big screen outing, SPECTRE. Until then, we have a new spy organization set to rival MI6 in Kingman: The Secret Service. And if you can ignore the hype of this weekend’s other big release, you may find yourself pleasantly surprised by this alternative.
Kingsman: The Secret Service (based on the graphic novel The Secret Service) is an origin story of sorts. The movie opens with scant background on Harry Hart (Colin Firth), code name Galahad, and a mission which led to the death of one of his fellow agents. Presenting the agent’s wife with an offer of assistance, she rebuffs him but he makes sure her young son understands that help is only a phone call away.
The boy, Eggsy (Taron Egerton), grows into a juvenile delinquent teen who when faced with a stint in prison makes that phone call. Eggsy is reluctantly released but he doesn’t realize that the man who helped him is the same man who gave him the number to call and who also needed to repay him for his father’s sacrifice. Eggsy is also unaware that he has been selected by Hart as a candidate to fill the seat of a recently deceased Kingman. Eggsy is put through his paces with the other recruits while a billionaire businessman hatches a plan to save the world from the very thing he believes is causing climate change … the human race. It’s up to Galahad and the Kingsman agents to save the day, but does rough-around-the-edges Eggsy have what it takes to be a Kingsman?
As I said, this is an origin story that shows us what makes the Kingsman organization tick and introduces us to the character of Eggsy. Unlike some laborious superhero origin stories, though, this one never gets bogged down in exposition. We learn about Kingsman throughout the movie by bits and pieces of detail we get from Hart, Merlin (Mark Strong) and Arthur (Michael Caine). One of the most important things to note here is that each agent has an Arthurian code name and when that agent is killed in action, that code name is passed on to his replacement. Death is a very real element for these agents.
Even as we learn about the organization and Eggsy, we’re also introduced to Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson) and his high-tech Rosa Kleb, Gazelle (Sofia Boutella), a cold-blooded killer with blades where her lower legs should be. Valentine seems to be a good guy who wants to save the world, but all of his efforts to stop climate change are thwarted by humans in general. When Valentine decides to throw in the towel and offer every person with a smart phone a free SIM card to access his phone and internet network free of charge, and notable celebrities and politicians go missing, red flags are raised. What could Valentine be up to? To say any more would ruin all of the surprises.
Kingsman: The Secret Service is hands down the best movie of the year … so far. Of course the year just started, but I can pretty much guarantee that the movie has already secured itself a place on my 2015 Top Ten list. Director Matthew Vaughn has woven together this action-packed tale with real character development, extreme and intense violence, humor and heart. Whereas his non-superhero movie Kick-Ass polarized audiences (and I am in the camp that loathes that movie), Kingsman more than makes up for that film’s utter ickiness and should appeal to a wider audience. Vaughn and his cast get high marks for treading that very fine line between seriousness and satire without falling over to either side, and manages to throw in a few Bond and The Avengers references (no, not the Marvel Avengers!) without them being too cheeky. The film also has one of the most insanely stylized scenes of mind-boggling violence ever committed to film about two-thirds of the way through that is almost too hard to top, but it does manage an ending that is completely, hilariously over-the-top.
Kudos also to Egerton for making us care about Eggsy, even when he’s being a complete prick. We know his background and we’re rooting for him to apply himself to become the man Harry believes he can be, a man comparable to the man his father was. His Welsh accent is a little tough to navigate at times, but he acquits himself nicely in his first big screen starring role.
The biggest surprise, though, has got to be Colin Firth who is best known for playing the dreamy romantic lead in films and TV series like Pride and Prejudice, The English Patient, Love Actually and Bridget Jones’ Diary. This is his first foray into big action films (he claims he’s never been considered to play James Bond) and he … well, he kicks ass. He’s the centerpiece of that action scene I mentioned earlier and he is amazing. And you can tell he’s having a ball doing it too, easily switching between the upright British gentleman in his “bespoke suit” and the agile killing machine he’s been trained to be. If nothing else, the movie will bring Firth a whole new generation of fans.
From start to finish, I absolutely loved Kingsman: The Secret Service and it’s a movie that I would even pay to see again … and I don’t say that very often. Kingsman is the new spy movie royalty.