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Categories: Movie Reviews

AD Cooper gives her analysis of Matthew Vaughn’s Kingsman: The Secret Service, which stars Colin Firth and Taron Egerton. 

Watch Matthew Vaughn’s Kingsman: The Secret Service and you can’t help but be entertained by its adolescent humour, impressive car chases and ensemble fight sequences. 

This is comic violence on a grand scale. Fists and bullets fly, heads explode (a lot) and folks get literally cut down to size by the baddie’s lethal sidekick Gazelle who has razor-sharp running blades instead of feet.

Based on the Marvel Comic by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons, this is the posh British spy formula updated for 2015.  Vaughn found modern spy thrillers like Bond and Bourne were missing humor, so there are nods to early Bonds, In like Flint, Harry Palmer, John Steed in The Avengers, Napoleon Solo and more from the 1960s and 1970s. It feels both derivative and familiar yet modern – a neat trick.

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The posh mentor and the blue-collar mentee

Kingsman is an elite organization that’s not aligned to any government, and it chooses to police the world’s megalomaniacs and fanatics.  It’s run like a private men’s club from behind a Saville Row tailors’ shop by a committee of men. They are given Arthurian codenames with Michael Caine as “Arthur”, Mark Strong as “Merlin” (albeit with a Scots accent) and Colin Firth as Harry Hart or “Galahad”.  When “Lancelot” (Jack Davenport) falls prey to Gazelle, he has to be replaced and the organization looks to the son of a former member. 

This turns out to be Gary “Eggsy” Unwin (Taron Egerton), a petty criminal living on the edge in some corner of East London. His recruitment is very like that of the Will Smith character in Men in Black, and there are many ‘fish out of water’ tests and trials for Eggsy while Harry Hart mentors him.  A free-fall parachute sequence is particularly impressive.

Eggsy joins a group of other recruits who seem to have been cast from the Sloane Ranger am-dram society. They’ve got great cheekbones, look good in the tailored clothes, and spout clichéd snobbiness. 

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By contrast, Egerton’s Eggsy (is that Egerton’s real nickname?) is an entirely believable, well-rounded performance with his well-drawn often fallible character progressing from wide boy to gentleman agent over the course of two hours. 

Gadgets galore

In a parody of Q’s kit briefing in Bond, Kingsman is fully equipped with all kinds of gadgets including exploding cigarette lighters, bulletproof tailored suits, poisoned Rosa Klebb toe cap spikes, and much use of button cameras for relaying information to “Merlin”.  He’s the controller of everything including training. Of course our Eggsy, who’s used to living on his wits, thrives on Merlin’s challenges and outclasses his chinless opponents.  

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Meet Valentine, the megalomaniac

Valentine (Samuel L Jackson) is a megalomaniac with a fancy line in bright clothes and a lisp. (Apparently Jackson became an actor to overcome a lisp and stutter). He’s a high-tech, high-camp squillionaire who seeks to create havoc by giving away free SIM cards to anyone who wants one.  At his command, these SIM cards emit a sound that turns normal human beings into homicidal maniacs, resulting in carnage around the world. 

Who can stop him and save the world? Step forward Kingsman in the form of Galahad, Merlin and Eggsy.  

Clothes and brands on a grand scale

The product placement in this film is outrageous. Brands are named, shown and blatantly praised. Valentine’s wardrobe is a brilliant rainbow of designer casualwear. However, everything looks too new, too polished with even the boys in the pub looking too carefully dressed.

But considering Kingsman is behind a Saville Row tailor and much importance is laid on looking the part in said bespoke suit, it’s odd that Firth’s suits don’t fit him that well. 

Caricatures and ciphers

In the first hour of the film, there’s much exposition about Eggsy’s world in the East End. This is “geezah” land perceived in an anthropological way with caricatured violent men dropping F bombs every other word, like Eastenders on a cocktail of steroids and testosterone.

It’s tiresome to see the female characters are ciphers again, and any hint of romance reduced to just a Scandi-shag. Eggsy’s worn-down and abused mother (Samantha Womack) is nothing new. Gazelle, played by Algerian actress/dancer Sofia Boutella, is given fighting skills that make her an agile and deadly foe, but otherwise she’s more like a glamorous assistant/Bond Girl.  However, her CGI’d legs are entirely believable with their deployable slicing blades, and her stunt work impresses. 

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The cameo of Michael Caine as Arthur doesn’t find him at his best, while Mark Hamill (Star Wars) as a dithering professor was a neat surprise. 

Violence on a grand scale.

The carefully choreographed fights are full of high-energy slapstick violence using dozens of stunt folk.  However, there’s excessive use of Crouching Tiger style slo-mo flying leaps (no wires were used, just spring floors) but quite frankly, this is starting to wear thin now.  Colin Firth trained for six months to be able to do all his stunt fights and he’s a revelation as a cold-heart gentleman killer.  

An interesting insight from Vaughn is that he adds the bullet strikes and blood splatter in post as it saves time and money on squibs and wardrobe whilst helping continuity.  

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Entertainment to the end

It’s undeniably an entertaining over-the-top film with fast edits and full-on music track. There’s a lot of wit across many levels in the script by Vaughn and Jane Goldman (Kickass), and the class clash is well portrayed.  It’s a cracking, often outrageously presented yarn, and it succeeds probably for all the reasons that the recent feature Mortdecai bombed so miserably. It also gave employment to 15,000 people in the film industry on a third of the budget of the last Bond. 

Empire Magazine described the film as “exhilarating, morally dubious and exhausting”.  

You can’t help laughing at it but should you really be so amused to see so many people dying in this comic-book style? The discussion will run and run.  

A D Cooper is a director, producer, writer and multi-media copywriter. She’s won awards for advertising writing, for screenplays long and short, written 80+ scripts for Ninja Warrior (Challenge TV) and published articles, short stories and joke books. Weary of waiting for someone to film her scripts, she started directing in 2010 creating a slate of short films including two corporates, a documentary and a museum installation. All of her fiction shorts for Hurcheon Films have been selected for international festivals, with Ace (2013) garnering five awards. Her most recent projects are an award-winning historical docushort Writing the Peace, a stage version of her World War 1 short film A Small Dot On The Western Front which she wrote, produced and directed, an experimental short film Spring on the Strand (selected for 3 festivals in the USA), The Penny Dropped (Award of Merit in a US shorts competition), and Home to the Hangers newly completed for the Directors UK Alexa Challenge 2017.

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Posted on Mar 2, 2015

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