Rating: 7.5 out of 10
Colin Firth as Harry Hart
Directed by Matthew Vaughn
Gary “Eggsy” Unwin (Taron Egerton) comes from a working class part of London, constantly getting into trouble with the law until a well-dressed man named Harry Hart (Colin Firth) shows up and offers to take “Eggsy” under his wing to train for a secret organization called Kingsmen. At the same time, a billionaire named Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson) has come up with a plan to reboot the Earth, saving the elite in a bunker while killing everyone else who doesn’t meet his high standards.
A few years back, Matthew Vaughn adapted Mark Millar and John Romita, Jr’s Kick-Ass, their twisted real-world take on superheroes. That friendship led to them brainstorming on a way to put a similar spin on the James Bond concept of a “gentleman spy.” Millar teamed with “Watchmen” artist Dave Gibbons for the graphic novel “The Secret Service” while Vaughn bunkered down with his writing collaborator Jane Goldman to come up with this big screen take, which asks the question, “Why can’t James Bond come from a working class background and be trained to dress and act properly?”
Vaughn’s tongue is firmly in cheek as he opens the film to the strains of Sting’s “I Want My MTV” from Dire Strait’s “Money for Nothing,” and we watch a military raid in the Middle East, a prologue to set up the relationship between Colin Firth’s Harry Hart and Gary (“Eggsy”), the son of his fallen comrade. Years later, “Eggsy” has been arrested and he calls upon Hart for a favor he offered earlier. After getting Eggsy’s release, they grab a pint at the local pub, but Eggy’s Mom is now dating an unrepentant thug who sends his goons after Eggsy, who Harry takes down with ease combining his fighting skills with high-tech weaponry disguised as his umbrella.
There’s endless amounts of fun watching a serious Oscar-worthy dramatic actor like Firth getting physical with thugs but still maintaining his poise as a proper English gentleman, but really, this is the story of Eggsy’s transformation. Comparisons to Liza Doolittle and “Trading Places” are referenced early enough in the movie to let us know that Vaughn isn’t afraid of exposing how self-aware the movie will be.
As with Kick-Ass, there are some distinct differences between the movie and graphic novel, yet it still channels a lot of Mark Millar’s snarky tone. Even so, the movie improves upon the story, mainly by creating a much bigger scale than seen in the comics.
While the recent Seth Rogen comedy The Interview might be edgy, it barely holds a candle to what Vaughn gets up to in his latest movie, especially when it comes to Samuel L. Jackson’s mad billionaire genius Valentine and his attempts to convince the world’s politicians and wealthy elite to join him in a bunker while the rest of the world dies. Valentine is another classic Jackson character with lots of quirky eccentricities, but Jackson takes the character so far that he becomes the funniest and most entertaining part of the movie. Wearing a baseball cap and flashy bling like a cross between Spike Lee and Russell Simmons, Valentine utters his threats with an exaggerated lisp that makes it hard to take him very seriously.
Goldman’s contributions as a writer are evident, keeping the movie from turning into a full-on sausage fest, not only by adding Sophie Cookson’s Roxy as Eggsy’s overachieving classmate in spy school, but Gazelle is now a beautiful, lithe woman with the body and moves of a dancer or gymnast as she uses her blade runner legs to take out Valentine’s enemies. If Jackson is a spin on the typical world-conquering mad genius than Gazelle is a fun spin on the gimmick Bond villains like “Odd Job” and “Jaws.”
The second act follows Eggsy’s progress in the Kingsman training program, as he and Roxy navigate a series of rigorous tests thrown at them by Mark Strong’s Merlin. Although it’s nice seeing Strong in a larger role than he normally gets, this section of the movie tends to drag because it’s harder to stay invested in these characters.
At least during this time, we get to see Jackson’s outlandish villain trying to recruit various politicians for his cause, and when Hart goes undercover, he gets caught up in Valentine’s plans trying to test out his transmitter that turns people into killers. This leads to an absolutely shocking action sequence–to the tune of “Freebird” no less–that will probably leave the most lasting impression on anyone who sees it.
It all builds to a flawless final act that’s absolute mayhem as Valentine puts his plan into effect, creating chaos across the globe, as the barely-trained Eggsy, Roxy and Merlin must step up to stop him. This finale shows how creative Vaughn has gotten with blending CG effects with practical action, making it obvious what a terrific job he would do directing a more modern James Bond movie. He could just as easily handle something as vast as “Star Wars” going by the final battle within Valentine’s secret base, although his leanings towards very R-rated humor would probably scare away the keepers of those franchises.
The Bottom Line:
Maintaining the snarkiness of Mark Millar’s writing, but creating something on a much grander scale, Vaughn embraces the simple premise by paying homage to classic James Bond with an exciting and funny action movie that never feels like it’s merely trying to spoof the source material.
Kingsman opens in the UK on January 29 and in North America on February 13.