With the release of the Melissa McCarthy vehicle Spy garnering praise recently, I can’t help but draw a comparison to Matthew Vaughn‘s Kingsman: The Secret Service considering both have a unique, R-rated take on the spy genre, which has become a little dry in recent years.
In one of the six featurettes on the Blu-ray release, Vaughn discusses his inspiration for adapting the graphic novel of the same name, explaining that though he admires new age of James Bond, and how Casino Royale was a good film but not a great origin story, he misses the old age of spy thrillers where they were “only as good as their villains” and where the plot was so convoluted it was nothing but a good time. This voice is clearly heard throughout the film. Whereas Spy is a parody of the spy genre, Kingsman is an homage that rivals that of Quentin Tarantino’s visual homages.
Colin Firth‘s character, Kingsman Harry Hart, tells his supervisor played by Michael Caine that “times are changing” and that’s Vaughn’s voice speaking, pertaining to the state of film. He sees how audiences are flocking to superhero flicks and adopts the Marvel blueprint to this adaptation of this graphic novel, Samuel L. Jackson included (fitting the bill for my Tarantino comparison too). Vaughn and co-screenwriter Jane Goldman push the envelope in creating a unique film while transporting the audience back to that simpler time, which is even mentioned on screen between Firth and Jackson. Its meta-lens works tremendously well, showing awareness of its absurdness, resulting in us taking it a little more seriously than we probably should.
[amz asin=”B00W6OOAAY” size=”small”]One of its most impressive feats is how the film manages to follow three story lines with such fluidity. At any one time, the film’s an origin story of the Kingsman secret service, a training film, and an attempt to stop the world from being destroyed. At times it seems there’s too much going, but thanks to fantastic performances, and writing, the stories mesh as one.
Eggsy played by up-and-comer Taron Egerton provides a strong performance full of teenage angst, every much the equal to Firth’s first-rate British gentleman. Jackson should be commended for his striking turn as tech mogul and psychopath Valentin — the “Heroes and Rogues” featurette provides some great insight into the creation of his lisping villain.
Those three get the most credit — rightfully so — but something should be said of the portrayal of women by both Jackson’s “Odd Job”-type Sofia Boutella and Sophie Cookson as strong independents that are never sexualized, something of a commonplace in spy films. But the film wouldn’t have its fingerprint without Mark Strong‘s turn as fellow Kingsman Merlin either. Vaughn discusses in the special features how Strong is the glue to the entire film. He plays switchboard to each of the diverging stories, connecting each character and situation to the other, which should also be accredited to fantastic editing as well. Vaughn’s structure of the film is dazzling and fast-paced, hitting overdrive during the action sequences.
As much as the dialogue is entertaining, the main attraction is the showstopping action pieces. Slow-motion has become so cliche, so Vaughn opts for a hyperactive style that adds a kick to each scene. Watching Firth run around a cult church and killing everyone in sight has never looked better, and the craft of each sequence is simply stunning. I doubt this will get any consideration by the Academy come award season but I would strongly consider this among the best visual effects of the year. It’s not that the visual effects are realistic in any way, but how they advance the story and aid the characters is beyond measure. Sure, it’s noticeably gimmicky but it works because of the immense attention to detail — a flawless orchestration of color.
The visual effects never overshadow the practicality of the production though. The entire set boasts surgical precision, everything having a place and reason to be. Watching the featurette “Tools of the Trade” makes that all the more evident, highlighting how props were chosen and placed. If there’s one bonus to watch, I’d recommend that one among the other five but each one is equally enlightening about the production, especially when highlighting the pre-production to show how they pulled off the unique action scenes shown in “Breathtakingly Brutal“.
Come year’s end, I doubt we’ll find many films as enjoyable or as well crafted as this spy homage. It may not crack my top ten but it’s definitely worth looking into further and I couldn’t be more pleased by its release to disc with its fantastic production documentation. When a film can capture an audience’s attention to question why this works as it does, you know there’s something great, and that’s exactly what Vaughn and his team delivered.
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