Some might meet the news of yet another comic book adaptation with an exasperated sigh, but there’s not a superhero in sight this time around. Following on from the subversive Kick-Ass, director Matthew Vaughn teams up yet again with screenwriter Jane Goldman to bring another Mark Millar work to the big screen. Kingsman: The Secret Service may best be described as a mash-up of the James Bond franchise and The Cornetto Trilogy (Shaun of the Dead/Hot Fuzz/At the World’s End). The best of both worlds, it is espionage in the most hilariously violent fashion imaginable.
Colin Firth – looking dapper as usual – is Harry Hart, a member of the Kingsman secret service. When one of his fellow Kingsmen dies during a botched mission, a vacancy arises for a new member. Fulfilling a promise made seventeen years earlier, Harry takes on troubled teen ‘Eggsy’ (Taron Egerton) as his protégé, who must undergo a series of tests against fellow pledges to win the prized position. Harry meanwhile embarks on a mission concerning American mobile phone mogul Richard Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson) who has sinister plans for population control.
With its tongue planted firmly in cheek, Kingsman turns the spy action genre on its head, while still respecting many of its conventions. It’s a welcome relief to be rid of the usual terrorist/robbery/drug cartel plot that seems to always involve the Russians in some capacity. Instead, the threat is amped up to doomsday proportions, with a more accessible plot that leaves out the boring political details. There is still much to please the Bond fans – with gadgets galore, sharp suits, witty one-liners, and action sequences that will have viewers on the edge of the seats. Kingsman’s self-referential nature only serves to improve upon the genre by challenging the audience’s expectations – in multiple instances Harry and Valentine discuss what would happen “if this were a movie”, before doing the opposite.
The casting initially seems almost too obvious, with Colin Firth, Michael Caine and Mark Strong all seemingly type-cast upon first glance. However, things aren’t always as they seem, and this isn’t your typical British pomp-fest. Taron Egerton transforms from ugly duckling to sex-on-legs swan with a giant wink, while Samuel L. Jackson amuses as the not-so-scary villain with an exaggerated lisp and an aversion to blood.
Kingsman doesn’t hold back in the violence department, and those hoping for another prim and proper Colin Firth vehicle may be in for an unpleasant surprise. Firth is certainly no Mr. Darcy here, and vicious murders come thick and fast, though mostly to comical effect. In one particularly memorable mass culling, it’s difficult not to guffaw at the group chosen by Valentine – but really ultimately by the screenwriters – to meet their grisly end. Straying from the source material (which may have taken itself a bit more seriously), Vaughn and Goldman choose perfect targets, and clearly had a hoot making this consistently ludicrous piece of comedy.
While Kingsman certainly carries on the tradition of the suave and debonair secret agent, it manages to keep a foot in both camps by tying in the British working class through the likes of juvenile delinquent, Eggsy. While the secret service may be drinking scotch in their finest suits, the pub locals guzzle cheap beers in their trackies, and are reminiscent of characters seen in the likes of Shaun of the Dead (with the comical violence to match). While it’s easy to make cracks about this socio-economic group – and the film does – Kingsman also involves a valuable message about any man being capable of being a ‘gentleman’, regardless of whether or not they were born with a silver spoon. It certainly doesn’t let the upper class get away without criticism either, striking a clever balance.
Kingsman is mainstream enough to be widely popular, but avoids the usual tropes of the genre to offer something fresh. With a clothing tie-in and a possible sequel in the works, a Kingsman franchise has clear money-making potential. Though history would suggest that this could result in the death of originality, one can only hope that Kingsman continues to kick major subversive arse well into the future.
Kingsman: The Secret Service is in Australian cinemas from 12 February through 20th Century Fox.