Editor’s Notes: Kingsman: The Secret Service is out on Blu-ray and DVD June 9th.
Kingsman: The Secret Service is a semi-satiric, often violent film that simultaneously spoofs and pays homage to vintage James Bond spy thrillers. Headquartered at a tailor shop in London but with no official affiliation to any specific country, Kingsman is a secret organization dedicated to ferreting out bad guys and keeping the world safe. Its structure is patterned after the Round Table, with its agents given the names of knights — Galahad, Lancelot, etc. The agents all wear well tailored suits, are impeccably mannered, and are highly trained in weaponry and field tactics.
Kingsman: The Secret Service is a semi-satiric, often violent film that simultaneously spoofs and pays homage to vintage James Bond spy thrillers.
The organization is run by Arthur (Michael Caine). When an academic, Professor Arnold (Mark Hamill), is kidnapped and one of its agents (Jack Davenport) killed trying to rescue him, Kingsman is led to Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson), a wealthy, ecology-obsessed megalomaniac who has decided to take matters into his own hands when politicians turn a deaf ear and blind eye to legislating environment-friendly laws. He will thin out the human race to ease pressure on the planet and its resources.
During a Kingsman mission led by Galahad (Colin Firth), one of the team is killed. Years later, Galahad checks on the son of his deceased comrade, Gary “Eggsy” Unwin (Taron Egerton), an angry young man on a bad path in life. Kingsman is looking for a new member to replace one recently killed on a mission. Each Kingsman member will sponsor a candidate, who will be pitted against the others in a rigorous, potentially lethal competition to see who prevails. Feeling guilty about the death of his father, Galahad, seeing potential and intelligence in Eggsy, sponsors him.
Kingsman: The Secret Service is a hybrid. It has the trappings of a vintage James Bond film. There are gadgets a-plenty, a crazed villain, an evil assistant (Sofia Boutella) who uses Oscar Pistorius-type prosthetic legs as slashing weapons, references to fine wine and spirits, and elaborately staged fights. Yet the movie has an identity of its own and an extremely witty script.
Kingsman: The Secret Service is an action-packed, joyful romp. There are some intense scenes, to be sure, but the tone is light and extremely clever.
Director Matthew Vaughn (Kick-Ass, X-Men: First Class) knows his way around action. One episode, early on, takes place in a pub. Galahad, only mildly annoyed at threats from a group of thugs, locks the doors and takes them on single-handedly, doing considerable damage without so much as wrinkling his Saville Row suit. To heighten the mayhem, slow motion shows us in detail a tooth being knocked out and flying across the room. Another scene, in a church, involves a bloody melee with Galahad and scores of people fighting to the death using any objects available as makeshift weapons.
Mr. Firth is an easy fit as the suave gentleman/warrior. He exudes class and breeding in a performance that is witty, empathetic, and tongue-in-cheek. He understands his character and the tone of the film precisely and plays Galahad straight, avoiding caricature.
Mr. Caine, too, is perfect as the head of this clandestine organization. His Arthur is authoritative, mission-oriented, and unsentimental. In his line of work, there is little time to wallow in sorrow over the loss of a fellow agent. The job is to replace him as soon as possible.
Newcomer Taron Egerton carries much of the movie. Under the tutelage of Galahad, his character transforms from a directionless kid to a young man recognizing his destiny. Holding his own against veterans Caine and Firth, Mr. Egerton has the makings of an impressive career. Ruggedly handsome, with effortless charm and the ability to convey emotion without uttering a word, he is a movie star in the making. Judging by his performance in Kingsman…, we’ll be seeing lots more of him.
Mr. Jackson, no stranger to crazy roles, has fun as Valentine in a role that calls out for a broad, no-holds-barred performance in the mold of Bond baddies Auric Goldfinger, Dr. No and Ernst Blofeld. Valentine, with a pronounced lisp, owl-eye glasses and a dread of the sight of blood (though he’s responsible for spilling gallons of it), is particularly lethal because his madness is fueled by unlimited funds, arrogance and self-righteousness.
Rated R, Kingsman: The Secret Service is an action-packed, joyful romp. There are some intense scenes, to be sure, but the tone is light and extremely clever. The script by director Vaughn and Jane Goldman (based on the graphic comic novel by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons) is a polished, fast-paced melange of old-style spy movies, thrills, and over-the-top action.
Bonus extras on the Blu-ray release include 6 behind-the-scenes featurettes and audio commentary.
For over 25 years, I was the Film and Home Entertainment Reviewer for "The Villadom TIMES," a New Jersey weekly newspaper, and have written for several other publications. I developed and taught a Film Studies program for two New York City high schools that included Film History, Horror/Fantasy, and Film Making.