Director: Matthew Vaughn
Cast Starring: Colin Firth, Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Caine, Mark Strong, Taron Egerton, Sofia Boutella
“Manners. Maketh. Man… Do you know what that means? Then let me teach you a lesson…”
Full disclosure – I’ve been a huge fan of Mark Millar’s ‘The Secret Service’ since it came out in the classic CLiNT magazine back in 2012 as a comic series. Millar’s comic puts the ‘graphic’ into the title ‘graphic novel’ and Kingsman does have some troubling moral viewpoints that reactionaries like The Guardian’s Jason Ward have picked up on. So it was with nervous anticipation that I went to witness Matthew ‘Kick Ass’ Vaughn’s big screen take on this tale of world saving superspies who are at heart as old school as they come…
Kingsman: The Secret Service is however a total endorphin rush, cheeky, classy & action packed, both a reverent homage to and a street-smart update of the ‘old-school’ James Bond movies. Co-writers Jane Goldman and Vaughn are on top form adapting Millar’s hyper-violent, rousing story of young Gary Unwin (Taron Egerton) – known as ‘Eggsy’ to his pals – who transforms from teenage council estate petty crim to smooth Kingsman agent with the help of the erstwhile Harry Hart (Colin Firth).
The Kingsmen you see are an elite group of agents who operate at the highest levels but with complete discretion. Headed by Arthur (Michael Caine) and taking their names from the Arthurian Legend, including Merlin (Mark Strong) and Lancelot (Jack Davenport), they are the new ‘knights.’ Stylish tailored suits are their armour, guns, gadgets and technology their weapons.
Whilst young tearaway Eggsy is undergoing ‘the most dangerous job interview ever’ – up against rival candidates like the gorgeous Roxy (Sophie Cookson) and others who all herald from privilege backgrounds – a dastardly global threat comes to light in the shape of Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson).
Can the Kingsmen rise to this challenge that threatens all mankind? Will Eggsy make it to become an agent? It’s delirious fun finding out… Millar’s story is gripping and amusingly self-aware, Jackson’s baddie gets many of the best lines – delivered with an outrageous lisp. In fact all the cast go about the action like their lives depend on it and the manic energy translates to a rip-roaring blast of decidedly non-PC fun.
Valentines’ sidekick bodyguard Gazelle (Sofia Boutella), whose character was originally a guy in the comic, is superb too – adding to the ‘Bond’ feel by slicing enemies to pieces with the blades she has for legs. But Kingsman is made most by the standout performance of Firth who takes to dealing out violent action as if he’s been doing it all his life. It’s hard to explain just how great it is to see him beating thugs, mowing down enemies and generally out ‘Bonding’ 007 himself – all the while personifying the perfect gentleman spy.
One scene may rankle in particular with extreme fundamentalist ‘Christians’ as they are portrayed as a hate group and dispatched en-mass in a delirium of violence that must push the boundaries of what a ‘15’ rated film can pass. So prepare yourself for lively debate as to the thinking behind this!? Indeed director Matthew Vaughn said “We’ve got an action sequence in a church which is going to cause a huge reaction. I’ll probably end up with a Christian fatwa on me!?”
So those who like their spy thrills sedate and high brow, or who are adverse to sweary dialogue might not go for Kingsman as much but for anyone who’s ever enjoyed an action film, you should make seeing Kingsman: The Secret Service an absolute must – as this just might be film of the year!
There is much to admire here in the midst of the violence and crazily overly the top moral vacuum – at the core is a warm beating heart of gentlemanly valour and noble ambition to save mankind. You won’t find much by way of Christ like analogy or positive spiritual enlightenment but there is a fantastic tale of how a young man on the wrong path can fulfill a destiny greater than that his situation in life has set him upon.
If you’ve ever watched a James Bond film and felt roused to make a stand for good, to face down deranged megalomaniacs and fight what’s right – be it through violence or sheer daring courage… I’d say that this is a primal inspiration that harks from an intimate connection to the larger purpose that can be traced through historical Christian thinking about valour. It was Thomas Aquinas the philosopher theologian who argued that courage / valour is a virtue that could only be exemplified with the presence of the Christian additional virtues of faith hope and love. True courage in Christianity has to be tempered through love and charity – only then can we call the natural virtue of ‘courage’ a Christian virtue.
So Kingsman might be an adrenalin thrill ride / a testosterone drench alternate ‘My Fair Lady’ rather than anything more – but there are always wider perspectives to think about if you have the time and inclination. And at the very least I have a feeling you’ll want to go and upgrade your suit after seeing these gentlemen spies in action.
CVM Rating: **** 4 out of 5 stars (5/5 if you aren’t easily offended)