How bizarre is it that on Valentine’s Day weekend, when moviegoing couples are looking for a movie that they can snuggle to/furiously make out to, that the supposed “romantic” movie is glorified Twilight fanfiction that is getting absolutely demolished by the critics, and the superior film is, in fact, a movie from the director of Kick-Ass that includes forced amputations, profuse swearing, and spontaneous cranial combustion. Funny how that works.
Kingsman: The Secret Service
Directed by: Matthew Vaughn
Produced by: Adam Bohling, David Reed, Matthew Vaughn
Written by: Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn
Genres: Spy, Action, Comedy
Based on: The Secret Service by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons
Starring: Taron Egerton, Colin Firth, Samuel L. Jackson, Mark Strong, Michael Caine, Sophie Cookson, Sofia Boutella, Mark Hamill
Music by: Henry Jackman and Matthew Margeson
Plot: Look up a picture definition of the word “directionless” in the dictionary, and it’s very likely that you’ll find a photo of Gary “Eggsy” Unwin (No word yet on why the bloody hell he’s nicknamed “Eggsy”). Eggsy, who was raised by his sad sack of a mother after his father was cut down in his prime. Now living in a shitty part of London with his mom, baby sister and thuggish jerkwad of a stepfather, he has flunked out of the Marines, and has done absolutely nothing in the ways of capitalizing on his talent as a gymnast and high intelligence. One day, after his penchant for juvenile delinquency gets him into serious trouble, Eggs meets a mysterious man in an impeccable suit named Harry Hart (Colin Firth) who takes the troubled land under his wing and trains him to be a Kingsman. That is, a member of a British spy organisation who engages ultra-dangerous threats to world security, while also dressed in the most badass way possible: tip to toe in the finest suits known to mankind.
While he doesn’t get as much acclaim or publicity as some of his contemporaries, I believe that Matthew Vaughn is one of the finer writer/directors working today. After his directorial debut in 2004’s Layer Cake, he has gone on to make more solid contributions to movies, including directing of my favourite movies of all time, Kick-Ass, the CPR to a dying franchise (X-Men: First Class) and contributing the storyline to one of my favourite movies of last year, X-Men: Days of Future Past. His appealing blend of snappy dialogue, a often uneven mix of action and comedy, and stylistic, brutal ultraviolence (Toned down for X-Men, obviously) has appealed to many, many people, including yours truly. That’s why I was so hyped for this movie after the early reviews came in.
What was my reaction to the first few minutes of the movie? I don’t know if I’ve ever been so underwhelmed.
The movie opens with a scene that is so poorly CGI’d that it took me right out of the movie. All of the action takes place off-screen and, all in all, it just feels like a giant cop-out. After that initial scene, the movie does improve, but the whole first act is plagued by pacing problems that were pretty annoying for me. The first act of the movie It wasn’t that bad, but it was certainly pretty off-putting.
Which is too bad, because if it wasn’t for the overly slow first act, this would possibly surpass Kick-Ass as my favourite Matthew Vaughn movie.
As unspectacular as the first act is, the middle and end are downright fantastic. At no point did I feel that the movie dragged, and I was genuinely interested and focused on what the characters were doing. Sure, one would have preferred that I feel this way throughout the whole movie, but things being the way they are, I’d say that the ball-busting action and quick pace of the rest of the movie more than makes up for the shortcomings of the first act.
Vaughn has always been a terrific action director, and Kingsman is definitely no exception. While he does use some shaky-cam, a technique that I despise more than anybody, he uses it very well, when it makes sense in the movie, and not purely for some bullshit stylistic purpose. Every action scene in this movie is so well done by the actors and director. It’s not so often that I catch myself replaying action scenes in my head because of their sheer badassery, but this film had me trying to re-enact the damn things at home. I was pretending to be Colin Firth, of all people. Who the hell would’ve thought that???
Speaking of Kick-Ass, Henry Jackman does the score for this movie along with Matthew Margeson, and they do just a terrific job. I think the score for Kick-Ass is one of the more unfairly ignored ones, and this movie’s music is even better. Not bad for a guy who made his debut as a film score composer in a straight-to-DVD Kung Fu Panda short film.
The dialogue in this movie, among other things, makes playful fun of the old British spy movies of the 60’s and 70’s, and isn’t afraid to reference them and other movies, frequently making reference to movies as far ranging from 007 to My Fair Lady. Being the Tarantino lover that I am, I can appreciate pop culture references, as long as they seem natural and well-placed. Not hard to do, but it’s done very well here.
Kingsman features a cast of veterans (Firth, Jackson, Strong,Caine, Hamill) that all do very well, although the standout is Firth who, as I mentioned before, is not necessarily one actor that we’d imagine to secretly be a badass action star, but hey, I guess that just goes to show how stupid we all are.
Samuel L. Jackson is gleefully over-the-top as a megalomaniacal Bill Gates/Spike Lee/Jules Winnfield/Whatever his character in Unbroken was, and is honestly really damn entertaining, which, at this point, is par for the course for him. The comparisons to Kick-Ass just keep coming as Mark Strong has a supporting role in this movie, although he’s actually a hero in Kingsman. Shocking, I know, but he’s actually really funny in this role. Michael Caine is always great, and there’s no point to me talking about that, while Mark Hamill has a smaller supporting role. I was kinda anxiously worried for his performance, knowing that his return as Luke Skywalker is fast approaching, but he does a great job as well, although he reminded me more of the Joker than a Jedi. Eh, I’ll take it.
Another great performance comes from Taron Egerton, in his first ever role, as Eggsy. I hope we get to see a lot more of this guy in the future. He just has this aura of charisma about him that seems like it could work to his benefit. Sofia Boutella is another newcomer playing the part of Samuel Jackson’s right-hand woman, and really seems to be channeling Jaws or Oddjob because, well, fucking look at her!!!
Newcomer Sophie Cookson is also in this movie, and, while her character isn’t as interesting as, say, the girl with cutlery for feet, she’s a perfectly good character. On that somewhat lukewarm note, what didn’t I like about this movie?
Well, as I mentioned before, the first act of the movie is not all that impressive. Also, some of the action, spectacular as it is, hinges on the unrealistic side, but then again, I’d be a damn hypocrite to rag on that after cheering on Hit-Girl massacre a room full of armed adults who can’t aim for shit despite being experienced mobsters. It’s still distracting as hell though. Also, this is more of a pet peeve of mine, but they do that thing where the protagonist cloaks his torso in some form of bulletproof shield while the idiot bad guys don’t think to shoot at his legs. That’s stupid. What are they, cops?
Also, I find it weird that for all the violence in this movie, there’s little to no blood. There’s actually a scene where somebody gets sliced in half right down the middle, and just about no blood was actually spilled. It’s not a major complaint, but I would’ve liked some more over-the-top, fake looking CGI blood. At least it makes sense in this movie.
Overall: If it wasn’t for a super disappointing first act, this would stand as one of the better spy movies, and a solid contender for one of the better movies of 2015. As it stands though, being a merely great movie ain’t bad. Bring on a sequel, please!