When a pug is named after Jack Bauer, Colin Firth shoots stun rays through an umbrella and Samuel L. Jackson talks with an ear-piercing lisp while trying to wipe out the human race with disruptive waves sent from cellphones . . . well, it’s rather obvious you are dealing with a different kind of movie. A movie that not only allows its A-list cast to have fun but also one that has its own fun at the expense of the genres it transcends. The question is though, while quasi-parodying the comical, high octane nature of the sophisticated, trench coat wearing, invincible secret agent flick, can Kingsman: The Secret Service hold its own?
Under the watchful eye of director Matthew Vaughn (“X-Men: Days of Future Past”), that answer is “Indeed.”
Elementally, Kingsman: The Secret Service comes off as quite “meta,” while it playfully pushes the boundary between comedy and rough-and-tumble action film. This latest project has it all: It fortifies the image of the sophisticated British gentleman and gives the audience a rambunctious, transparent narrative with laudable graphics which help suspend belief and keeps viewers guessing.
The film starts off during a top-secret mission in 1997 with British intelligence agents interrogating a Middle Eastern man who soon proves to be carrying a bomb. One agent, recognizing the threat, jumps on the explosive as it detonates, saving all the others in the room. The man who was spared removes his mask and reveals himself to be Harry Hart, code name Galahad (Colin Firth, “Devil’s Knot”). To thank his savior, he gives a special Kingsman medallion to the man’s son. Years later, this boy, now in his early twenties, proves to need a little bailing out; to which Galahad swiftly responds.
Slowly but surely, the boy, Gary ‘Eggsy’ Unwin (Taron Egerton, “Testament of Youth”) is introduced to the Kingsman livelihood, for he has become a candidate to replace a fallen Kingsman — a man known as Lancelot (Jack Davenport, “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End”). He was killed during an attempt to rescue a missing scientist, Professor James Arnold (Mark Hamill, Star Wars series). Arnold, it turns out, was being coaxed by would-be philanthropist Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson, “RoboCop”) to provide climatology information, and to join an elite sample of those with “implants.” Valentine also ends his tireless Washington lobbying pursuit (for climate change recognition) and decides to take matters into his own hands. It appears that he’s distributing free SIM cards to the world’s population, allowing for free access to the internet, cell networks, etc., but really he is planting a time bomb, of sorts, with something very different in mind. Kingsman, led by Galahad, Arthur (Michael Caine, “Interstellar”) and Merlin (Mark Strong, “The Imitation Game”) consolidate their independent spy power to rectify this lisp-driven threat.
Kingsman: The Secret Service comes with a trio of recognizable performances: Those from Taron Egerton, who as Eggsy, delivers a mischievous but deadly pseudo-spy in what is technically his debut; the unmistakable Colin Firth, who has an extraordinary screen presence; and a bit surprisingly, Mark Strong, who delivers some of the best one-liners in his role as Merlin, the quirky, fearless techie. No review, however, could be considered complete if the work of Mr. Samuel L. Jackson was not mentioned. We all know that he, like fellow Hollywood mainstay Christopher Walken, takes and makes use of every role, big or small. Here, viewers should be elated that Jackson does just that — for he’s simply hilarious. He’s a brainy celebrity who wants to dip his toes in mass genocide, with a lisp and a considerable fear of blood. Without this character’s lunacy, and Jackson’s devotion, this movie would crumble under its own weight.
Laughs and flashy dialogue aside, Kingsman: The Secret Service does come packaged with a few societal messages, and they’re not to be ignored. One: We should not neglect the fact that climate change is a formidable opponent to our stay here on this rock. Two: Technology is molding us into a robotic society. A cyber threat, then, should not be taken lightly. It can’t hurt to keep these notions in mind as you watch the madness unfurl — severed limb by severed limb — onscreen.
What’s more, Matthew Vaughn should be taking an MVP honor for his writing/directing/producing efforts. The narrative moves along smoothly — with not too many quibbles for such a lofty plot — and the action is basically unprecedented. It borders on Tarantino-esque, and keeps a Frank Miller sort of aura throughout. And even though the film adapted from Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons comic book series, The Secret Service, finds interesting uses for prosthetic legs and has its own sodomy references, Kingsman: The Secret Service won’t get the fanfare it deserves thanks to “Fifty Shades of Grey” consuming all available theater space for throngs of lonely women everywhere.