Monday, February 16, 2015


(US/UK - 2015)

Directed by Matthew Vaughn. Written by Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn. Cast: Colin Firth, Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Caine, Mark Strong, Taron Egerton, Sofia Boutella, Sophie Cookson, Mark Hamill, Jack Davenport, Samantha Womack, Hanna Alstrom, Bjorn Floberg, Geoff Bell, Ralph Ineson, Richard Brake. (R, 129 mins)

Like 2010's KICK-ASS, director Matthew Vaughn's last adaptation of a Mark Millar comic book series, KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE (which Millar co-created with Dave Gibbons) takes unbridled joy in pushing the envelope and poking people with sticks. Without a little girl dropping countless F-and-C-bombs, KINGSMAN isn't going to attract quite the same level of controversy. Nevertheless, some are taking umbrage with the hilarious final shot, essentially a very hard-R riff on all of those quips and double entendres that would close out a James Bond movie as 007 wraps up the adventure and canoodles with the Bond girl while M or Q or Moneypenny listen or observe with their disapproving "Really, 007!" facial expressions. The entire film is an homage to the more lighthearted spy films of old, particularly Roger Moore's tenure as 007, while also functioning as a meta commentary on spy movies in general, with characters lamenting that today's genre items are much too serious and downbeat. That's an especially amusing aside, considering two of this film's stars--Colin Firth and Mark Strong--appeared in 2011's low-key and magnificently somber TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY. The connection to spy films past extends to the presence of the legendary Michael Caine, who played British agent Harry Palmer in a series of five films from 1965 to 1996. Vaughn and regular co-writer Jane Goldman play these meta elements just enough that they remain amusing, wisely resisting the urge to make it too self-consciously cute. For the most part, KINGSMAN is bit on the longish side and, like so many of its present-day counterparts, suffers from some blasts of dubious CGI that's distracting in its cartoonish artifice, though I tend to be a little more lenient on that when it's a comic book adaptation.  Overall, KINGSMEN is generally witty and wildly entertaining, deftly mixing thrilling action, big laughs, and shocking violence, aided by a fine cast of serious actors obviously enjoying themselves and having a good time.

Unemployed London troublemaker Eggsy Unwin (Taron Egerton) gets into a row at a pub and retaliates by taking the guy's car for a joyride. Arrested, Eggsy resorts to an emergency number on the back of a medal given to him 17 years earlier by Harry Hart (Firth), a co-worker of his late father, who died on the job. He was told to call that number if he ever needed anything, and 17 years later, he calls in that favor and is sprung from jail by Hart with all charges dropped. Hart tells Eggsy that he's a Kingsman--like his father--an agent in a top-secret government intelligence agency. Hart, codename Galahad, feels responsible for Eggsy, as Eggsy's father saved the lives of Galahad and other Kingsman agents by diving on top of an Iraqi suicide bomber, sacrificing himself for the greater good of the team. It so happens that there's a vacancy in the Kingsman agency--which Galahad would like filled by Eggsy-- after Lancelot (Jack Davenport) is killed by Gazelle (Sofia Boutella), a legless assassin with prosthetic, sharpened Oscar Pistorius-like running blades. Gazelle is the chief henchman to eccentric, billionaire internet mogul Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson), a philanthropist whose supposed concern with climate change is a cover for a far more nefarious master plan. Valentine orchestrates a global giveaway of SIM cards that provide free phone and internet service for everyone, for life. As evidenced during a trial run at a Kentucky church, whose congregation is filled with hatemongering racists, gun nuts, and homophobes, the internet signal received by those with Valentine's SIM cards causes its users to behave in uncontrollably violent, destructive fashion. The SIM card is a mind and impulse control/manipulation signal, and Valentine has been meeting with and occasionally kidnapping the world's more important dignitaries and luminaries--including prominent climate change expert Prof. Arnold (Mark Hamill in some in-joke casting, playing a character who was originally named "Mark Hamill" in the comic book)--and implanting a chip behind their ears to make them immune from the signal, thereby giving an overcrowded, global warming-damaged world a much-needed do-over, where the lesser, more gullible people of society remove themselves from the equation and the rich and privileged one-percenters reign supreme.  As Eggsy and others are trained in the ways of the Kingsman by their mentor Merlin (Strong), Galahad conducts an investigation of Valentine at the behest of the agency's leader Arthur (Caine), one that will put the entire organization to a test in order to save the planet from the megalomaniacal madman.

As goofy as KINGSMAN is, its plot isn't any more ludicrous than something like MOONRAKER (some of the climax even takes place in space!). From the various Kingsman gadgets to Valentine's insane plot and his lethal right-hand (wo)man with some kind of gimmicky physical attribute to Jackson's loud and hammy performance, KINGSMAN frequently resembles a lighthearted 007 entry if Bond was paired up with a street-smart soccer hooligan for a sidekick. Egerton does a fine job as Eggsy, with his cocky exterior masking smarts and sensitivity on which Galahad is willing to stake his reputation. The relationship that forms between the two men--one who never knew his father and the other who blames himself for it--is portrayed very nicely by Egerton and Firth. But it's really Jackson, acting like a mash-up between Spike Lee, Mark Cuban, and Auric Goldfinger, who steals the show. KINGSMAN also offers a lot in the way of ballsy, subversive jabs, not only at the massacre of a bunch of brainless Kentucky yokels who gather at the very Westboro Baptist-esque church to spread their hate and intolerance, but in the corrupt politicians in Valentine's pocket--there's digs at the left and the right here--and the way they sell everyone out to save their own asses, not to mention what Sweden's Princess Tilde (Hanna Alstrom) is willing to do if the world is saved. KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE takes the PUNISHER: WAR ZONE approach to older spy movies, but is a bit like a more refined KICK-ASS. It's still got something to offend everyone, but does so in the classiest way possible. It's a film that sets out to entertain while occasionally making your jaw drop and wondering "Did it really go there?" Yes, it does, and that's exactly why it's such great fun, and it's Vaughn's best film since his directing debut with 2004's LAYER CAKE.

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