(Warning: this review contains some spoilers)
I saw the new film Kingsman: The Secret Service at the cinema recently and walked out with somewhat mixed opinions. Part of me liked it, part of me didn’t. So I thought: you know what? I’m going to channel my conflicted thoughts and write a well-balanced review.
The film has been described as James Bond meets Kick Ass… and yes, that is more or less on the money. So what is it all about? Well it stars Taron Egerton, Colin Firth and Samuel L. Jackson and tells the story of a secret organisation of spies operating beneath a Tailors shop. Taron Egerton plays Gary “Eggsy” Unwin, a youth on a path to self destruction who encounters Harry Hart (Firth), a suave gentleman who turns out be a high ranking member of the spy organization known as “the Kingsmen”. After learning that his late father was a Kingsman, Eggsy is persuaded by Harry to unlock his full potential by training to become a Kingsman himself. He is then forced to go head to head with Richmond Valentine (Jackson), a maniacal Internet billionaire, and his deadly assassin Gazelle (Sofia Boutella) as they hatch an elaborate and diabolical plot to cull the majority of Earth’s human population.
When I summarize it like that it sounds pretty much like every other spy/thriller movie you’ve ever seen doesn’t it? Well… not quite. On the surface, it’s a story format we’ve seen a million times; the coming of age story about a young hero trying to follow in his father’s footsteps while being mentored by one of his father’s close friends who feels a degree of responsibility towards him. We’ve seen that in Star Wars and many other films. However, the content of this film tries to add a bit more of a kick (literally). There are quite a few jolting moments and action that will definitely keep your blood pumping. There are also moments in which the film attempts to defy cinematic conventions in a somewhat self-aware manner, which some may view as merely gimmicky but others may find fresh and exciting.
The film derives much strength from its enjoyable characters. The sheer contrast of Eggsy’s rough and, for lack of a better term, “chavvy” personality mixed with the suave, James Bond style demeanor he is forced to adopt makes him an entertaining lead protagonist. He is developed quite well and there is not a lot of focus given to his romantic subplot, which I found refreshing. Taron Egerton gives a good performance to boot. The show stealers however are Colin Firth and Samuel L. Jackson, who both seem to have a lot of fun in their respective roles. I think what really makes them shine is the fact that the characters they play in this film are quite different in style to what they would normally play. Seeing Colin Firth swiftly beat up a gang of roughians in martial arts fashion is such a spectacle that it’s hard not to appreciate it, yet he still manages to maintain his trademark charm and cool-headedness. Likewise, Samuel L. Jackson’s take on a geeky Internet billionaire/super villain with a lisp is brilliantly quirky. Eggsy’s fellow Kingsman trainees are generally less interesting characters, with the exception of Roxy, but the film doesn’t devote too much time to them. Mark Strong gives a solid performance as the Kingsmen’s tech genius Merlin and as for Michael Caine’s character Arthur, while the actor commands a strong presence as always I can’t help but feel that he was under-utilised.
The action sequences are very kinetic and exciting to watch, however my main issue with the film comes from the sheer level of violence and death. The problem for me started during a scene in which [SPOILER ALERT] Firth’s character Harry ruthlessly slaughters an entire Church congregation. Granted, Harry wasn’t actually in conscious control of his actions thanks to Valentine’s mind warping technique, but as the sequence went on (and it is rather lengthy) I reached a point where I thought to myself… this is a tad excessive. The level of violence is similar to that of Kick Ass, a film I enjoyed greatly. In Kick-Ass however, the context that the violence is placed in enables it to come across as satirical, which I can accept. Kingsman didn’t quite do that for me; it came across as more gratuitous. I may be overthinking it, but the morbidity sucked some of the fun out of the whole affair in my eyes and left a bad taste in my mouth. Saying that however, I still enjoyed the movie as a whole. In addition to the good characters, the story is well paced and it has some decent comedy.
To wrap up, there are three aspects that make this film worth seeing in my opinion: the visual style, the comically over-the-top action sequences and the performances delivered by the main cast, particularly Firth and Jackson. The violence may put some people off but overall I would say that Kingsman: The Secret Service is quite a fun-filled ride. Please feel free to share your own thoughts in the comments.
Posted by Frank Short