(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.
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.