‘Kingsman: The Secret Service’ Is Matthew Vaughn’s Energetic Homage To British Spy Movies

Kingsman: The Secret Service is a refreshing alternative to the pseudo-serious JB films. James Bond and Jason Bourne may be able to allude enemies with stylish getaways or go toe-to-toe with them with elaborately staged fisticuffs, but why not face them with an umbrella (and then cooling off with a pint of Guinness) instead?

Matthew Vaughn, the filmmaker behind Layer Cake (which starred a pre-007 Daniel Craig), passed on the sequel to his X-Men: First Class so he could make this secret service spy yarn instead. Loosely based on Mark Millar’s 2012 comic series, Vaughn constructs a self-referential action flick and continues his streak as being one of the best and most varied mainstream filmmakers working today.

Kingsman does not skirt what it is trying to be. Opening on Dire Straits’ “Money for Nothing” with guest vocal Sting announcing he wants his MTV, you already get the sense that Matthew Vaughn wants our tongues to be pressed firmly in cheek. From there, the director practically wants us to catch every passing overt and not-so overt reference. The characters known as “The Kingsmen” are given code names like Lancelot and Merlin but congregate around a table that is oblong, not round. The spies are well aware of the James Bond movies, and television series like The Avengers and Get Smart get unsubtle nods, as does another famous JB: Jack Bauer.

Vaughn takes a tired concept of a megalomaniac villain (here played by Samuel L. Jackson) with a plan to make the world a better place and makes it fresh, even if it comes across as a pre-packaged happy meal. The biggest surprise is Colin Firth as the unlikely action hero, Galahad. The man who has made women swoon as Mr. Darcy in the famed BBC production of Pride & Prejudice and won an Oscar for his starring performance in The King’s Speech, Firth is the perfect gentleman spy. Impeccably dressed in a bulletproof suit and tie — all thanks to the secret spy organization’s brick-and-mortar cover, a famous London tailor — Firth brings humor and a cadre of weapons that will delight fans of Roger Moore’s James Bond.

Kingsman: The Secret Service has branching plots, charting the course of Firth and a rising star. As Galahad looks to find the man behind the death of his friend and operative Lancelot, he teaches his protege, Eggsy (Taron Egerton), as he goes through training to join the Kingsmen. To succeed, Eggsy must outlast other prime candidates in an elimination-style contest. His only ally is Roxy (Sophie Cookson), one of two women looking to prove themselves worthy of being a Kingsman.

Matthew Vaughn is smart with his staging of action, starting small and ending with a big finale. Watching one elaborate sequence in the second act, trying to separate the action Firth does compared to a double proves fruitless as Vaughn shoots in such away to avoid quick edits and tricks with the camera. So Colin Firth’s admission about doing a majority of his own stunts may be fairly accurate (he has photos to back up the injuries sustained on set).

Kingsman: The Secret Service has several sequences, but the most memorable involve a bar, a Kentucky church, and a secret lair. Two out of the three feature Colin Firth. He is Kingsman’s marketable star. Taron Egerton, a relative newcomer, charms the audience as Eggsy, plus he looks good in a suit. Samuel L. Jackson sports a lisp and mixes comedy with villainy as Valentine, a man who is an amalgam of Steve Jobs and Spike Lee. Filling out the call sheet are the likes of Michael Caine (as “Arthur,” of course), Mark Strong as Merlin, and Mark Hamill as a suit-rumpled professor. Perhaps a trip to the tailors is in order.

Kingsman: The Secret Service has some pacing flaws but succeeds as a visceral action-comedy overall. Its Valentine’s Day arrival is a nice appetizer until the release of Universal Pictures’ Furious 7 in April. Matthew Vaughn feeds the audience a satisfying happy meal of entertainment. The food may be made fast and not keep us full, but it is something audiences are likely to crave to see again.

[Image via Fox Movies]