Spy-based movies tend to fall into two categories: the action-packed, gritty violent genre or the humorous, whimsical sort. While the James Bond series has alternated from tough to tongue-in-cheek, it has inspired the Bourne series, the Jack Ryan franchise and even Austin Powers. Now, director Matthew Vaughn offers his take on the genre with Kingsman: The Secret Service, an adaptation of Mark Millar’s comic book series.
Gary “Eggsy” Unwin, played by Taron Egerton, is a troubled young man who lives with his widowed mother, and younger sister in a working class suburb of London, England. While he has the potential to better himself, he chooses to spend his time drinking and fooling around with his friends.
After getting caught in a prank-gone-wrong, he is helped out by Harry Hart, played by Colin Firth, a well-dressed man with a penchant for making sarcastic quips. It is revealed Eggsy’s deceased father was a colleague of Hart in the Kingsmen, a secret agency of spies headed by Chester King, played by Michael Caine. Having lost one of their top agents, they are looking for a replacement.
Eggsy has to compete with several other recruits for a position in the agency, but he also finds himself falling in love with fellow trainee Roxy, played by Sophie Cookson. What they have yet to realize are the plans of a shady billionaire named Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson) who has an agenda for the world leaders involving Internet SIM cards.
Colin Firth gives a stellar performance as Harry Hart. Previously known for playing romantic leading men, he gets to break from the conventional formula and have fun while doing so. Despite being in his mid-50s, the actor brings a sense of physicality to the role, and is capable of holding his own in fight sequences. One can only imagine what Firth might have done if cast as James Bond.
Egerton is a relative newcomer to film acting, but he succeeds in making Eggsy interesting and relatable to viewers. Although the character tends to be defiant and rebellious in the first two acts, he manages to show considerable growth and maturity. As a leading man, Egerton has charisma and believability on his side.
Cookson plays Roxy as a strong-willed, assertive young woman who isn’t afraid to take chances. Rather than going the ‘Bond Girl’ route, Vaughn and screenwriter Jane Goldman’s script presents her as a force to be reckoned with.
Michael Caine does well in his supporting role as the sagely, wise Chester, but his role is quite different from his mentor roles in past films.
Samuel L. Jackson gets to chew scenery as Valentine, a juicily comedic villain who loves the Sean Connery Bond films yet gets squeamish about blood and gore.
In addition, Mark Hamill is unrecognizable in a humorous cameo role as Professor James Arnold, a British scholar whose actions kickstart the plot.
The film’s pace is fast, yet it never feels confusing or jarring. In keeping with the tone of the comic, there are several over-the-top fight sequences that are bloody, but they do not feel excessively gory or gratuitous. Vaughn’s direction offers an ironic deconstruction of action films, as exemplified by Jackson’s character giving monologues on how the Bond movies work. Henry Jackman and Matthew Margeson’s score feels Bond-esque at times without appearing derivative.
Kingsman is an enjoyable action-thriller. If the viewer is seeking a Bond-type film, they probably won’t find it here, as Vaughn offers a hilarious, high-stakes depiction on the world of espionage.