Dapper British gents gallivanting across the globe for classy murderous adventures have defined a familiar genre at this point. There’s Bond (James Bond), of course, along with all of the anti-Bonds and Bond parodies. The always sneakily subversive director Matthew Vaughn (Kick Ass, X-Men: First Class) has now crafted his take on the genre that falls somewhere in the middle of the extremes. The affection for the source material is clear, but the snark comes through just as strongly. What emerges is a playfully mainstream semi-blockbuster with just enough nasty impulses around the edges to serve up good fun for those who want a little more than the usual whiz-bangspy movie entertainment.
The Kingsman are a super-secret organization who serve her majesty and the greater good by killing off baddies in well-pressed suits. A lisping Sam Jackson supervillain has recently emerged, slowly recruiting a variety of notable celebrities, scientists, and world leaders into some sort of mysterious plot. What that dastardly plot entails is unclear initially (you know, like how spy movies work), but the Kingsman are on the case. They even send out one of their top men in an attempt to save a stuffy British scientist played by none-other-than Mark Hamill. That agent fails quite spectacularly though, ending up split right in half. So the Kingsman led by Michael Caine and the delightfully dapper Colin Firth are in the market for new recruits. Firth sponsors a lower class lad named Eggsy (Taron Egerton) to join a team of possible new super agents in a round of death-defying training, while Firth heads out to slowly gather recon on Sam Jackson and his supervillain shenanigans. It’s the type of adventure that can only end in an elaborate secret base filled with uniformed henchmen, so it does. But thankfully with Vaughn, his longtime writing partner Jane Goldman, and comic book legend Mark Millar in charge, none of the expected beats play out quite as expected.
The easy way to describe Kingsman is that is does for James Bond superspy silliness what Kick Ass did for superheroes. Like that twisted little cult oddity that also sprung from the minds of Vaughn, Goldman, and Millar, Kingsman takes the piss out of a popular genre and amps up the sensationalism to cartoony hard-R levels, while still providing the wholesome old genre entertainment in a filthily fresh new package. The tone is sardonic and irreverent, mixing low-level lads humor with sophisticated genre games nimbly in a giddy sugar rush of entertainment. With each passing film, Vaughn’s skill with spectacle grows and Kingsman is filled with comedically nasty set pieces sure to have audiences cheering. In particular, a scene in which Firth slaughters 50 people in a church (a bigger body count than I thought I’d see Firth achieve in his entire career) or an almost inexplicably bizarre exploding heads climax hit levels of stylish slapstick violence that might even make Tarantino jealous. Vaughn and his creative team know the Bond routines quite well, conforming to them and subverting them with enough unpredictability to keep things fresh. At times they even slot a little social commentary into the mix. What emerges is a grab bag of entertainment that’s just as thrilling as you’d hope and as messy as you’d fear, but ultimately more than worth the price of admission.
It certainly doesn’t hurt that the cast is so damn good. Firth steals the show by combining that charming befuddled Britishness that made him so beloved with explosions of bloody carnage no one could have expected in a role that might shift perceptions on the actor if enough eye-balls spot it. Caine is Caine in all the good and bad ways, ditto Samuel L. Jackson (who visibly has more fun onscreen here than he has in any non-Tarantino production for years). Even newcomer Taaron Egerton manages to hold his own alongside those prestigious talents and others like the dearly underrated Mark Strong. For those who enjoy mainstream entertainment tainted by twisted imaginations, the film is an absolute joy filled with enough ‘wtf’ moments to keep your jaw-wagging throughout (in particular, Jackson’s henchwoman with lethal running blades is an inspired touch). It would be a lie to say the movie is without flaws though. Some of the raunchy humor steps too far into tastelessness and the explosions of ideas often leads to narrative muddle, not to mention the fact that the giddy genre romp is rarely quite as intelligent or rewarding as promised. Thankfully, all of those complaints fall into the nit-picking variety. Overall, Kingsman: The Secret Service offers a mix of mainstream rush and clever genre inversions that finds it’s way into blockbuster filmmaking far too irregularly. A bit of filthy fun worth cherishing, especially for anyone who loves a good exploding head gag (and honestly, who doesn’t?!)
The film debuts on Blu-ray in a robust package typical of a Matthew Vaughn joint. This is a man for whom laserdisc and DVD players served as film school and he’s always happy to keep that dying trend kicking. The tech specs are wonderful, with the bright n’ shiney old timey spy movie aesthetic leaping of the screen in bold colors and the booming soundmix rocking speakers accordingly. The tyrannical detail of HD reveals the budget limitations in the CG occasionally, but Vaughn gets away with it since the style and tone of the film are so cartoonishy exaggerated to begin with. It’s almost appropriate in an odd way. The special feature section is essentially limited to one item, but it’s a doosey. Vaughn and co. whipped up a full 90 minute documentary about making of the film. Everything from Vaughn, Millar, and legendary artist Dave Gibbons’ experience writing the original comic to the making of the insane set pieces is covered in great detail. There’s a little back-slapping from the cast members, but overall it’s a welcomed in depth look into the making of an ambitious film the likes of which is sadly rarely produced these days. Thankfully, Vaughn does keep the making of doc business alive with each of his movies though and this is probably the best one he’s delivered on a disc yet, which is entirely appropriate since Kingsman is also arguably his finest film to date. In other words, buy this Blu-ray immediately.