Matthew Vaughn can now be considered alongside directors such as Bryan Singer and Zack Snyder as go-to guys when it comes to adapting a comic book property for the big screen. Following Kick-Ass and X-Men: First Class, Vaughn has made his third and strongest adaptation to date with Kingsman: The Secret Service. The film serves as that rare summer treat served up in the middle of winter, when we’re most in need of its brand of escapism. It’s a smorgasbord of many films and TV shows that works because of its self-awareness and commitment to camp.
The film’s basic concept (Men In Black meets James Bond) was sourced from Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons’ book The Secret Service, but it’s a loose adaptation, which is the best kind of translation and definitely elevates the material in this case. Both are about a teenaged hood who gets recruited into a secret elite British spy agency and must stop a wealthy entrepreneur from using his cellphone satellites to make a large portion of the world kill each other in a murderous rage. Thankfully, that’s about as far as the similarities go. One ingenious alteration was changing a celebrity kidnapping subplot to the rounding up of rich and powerful people. Instead of actor Mark Hamill being the first kidnap victim we see, it’s a prominent professor who happens to be played by Mark Hamill.
Newcomer Taron Egerton plays “Eggsy,” the new recruit necessary for getting all of that exposition that we the audience also require. While he is the obvious protagonist, the coolest character is easily his recruiter, Galahad (Colin Firth). All of the ‘Kingsmen’ get to kick ass at some point, but none can do it quite like Galahad can. He has the fight scene that people will be talking about and will be remembered alongside Old Boy and Kill Bill’s bloodbaths. Of course in order to engage in combat, a Kingsman must be dressed to the height of British fashion, and we all know how well Firth can wear a suit. In addition to Firth, the film boasts supporting class from Michael Caine, Mark Strong, and Samuel L. Jackson as the baddy.
In almost every superhero movie, there is a scene where the moral of the story is basically stated outright by a character… just ask Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben (what comes with great power again?). Perhaps this isn’t a moral, but Galahad clearly states the purpose of this movie in a scene where he laments the old spy films, complaining that the current ones are too serious. Even the villain agrees, “give me a far fetched plot any day” replies Jackson’s speech-impeded Valentine. That’s exactly what they’ve given us, an over-the-top, gadget filled, action packed, old school, tongue-in-cheek espionage adventure. Perhaps more than any other property, Kingsman borrows the most from The Avengers. Not Marvel’s All-Star mega franchise, but the 1960s British ‘Spy-Fi’ TV show that took itself about as seriously as Get Smart. Despite its campy, self-referential humour, the film’s R rating also allows it to go to some insane, unexpected places.
In many ways the film is in the same vein as the inferior Kick-Ass (also based a Millar comic), especially when it comes to the level of violence you should expect. Vaughn clearly learned some tricks while attending the PG Mutant Academy in between these more adult oriented stories. You have to give the man credit for finding new and exciting ways to film action scenes that could have easily felt tired and redundant. Barring multiple unprecedented cinematic achievements in the next 10 months, expect to see Kingsman: The Secret Service on some 2015 Top Ten lists, especially if outspoken, genre-loving directors like Edgar Wright and Quentin Tarantino publish theirs this year.