If you’re a lover of movies and movie-going, then you get your ass to a cinema and you strap yourself in when Matthew Vaughn has a new movie opening. Few filmmakers are as reliable and as entertaining as the British writer, director and producer. From Layer Cake and Stardust, to Kick-Ass and X-Men: First Class, the man hasn’t made a dud yet. Thankfully, his latest offering Kingsman: The Secret Service is no exception.
Based on the comic series by two legends of the medium – Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons – it’s fitting the cinematic adaptation is handled by two equally skilled talents in the film medium – Vaughn and his frequent collaborator Jane Goldman. It’s the sixth feature film they’ve worked on together as either screenwriters or producers. The familiarity shows, with Goldman seeming able to effortlessly craft a screenplay that not only services the story but showcases Vaughn’s skill as a director.
The film follows the exploits of an independent British intelligence agency known as the Kingsman and loosely shaped around the Arthurian Knights of the Roundtable formula. After one of their number – Lancelot – is killed in action, the remaining members of the group are set the task of finding new recruits. Harry Hart (Colin Firth) aka Galahad’s pick is Gary ‘Eggsy’ Unwin, the son of a man who once saved his life in the service many years earlier. Unlike the other candidates who either hail from Oxford or Cambridge, Eggsy is better suited to being an extra in Attack The Block. Yet his street smarts and slight of hand see him accelerating through the ranks, all the while internet billionaire Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson) is plotting an Apocalyptic event.
In the words of Dizzee Rascal, the cast is bonkers. Firth, Jackson, Michael Caine, Mark Strong and Mark Hamill (in a cute wink to the OG comic’s storyline) round out a colourful cast of characters. No one is filler, everybody brings their A-game. Yes, even Jackson who delivers a very tongue-in-cheek rendition of a hood Bill Gates who has “no stomach for violence” and speaks with a lisp. As the dapper and deadly Galahad, Firth looks as sharp as he did in A Single Man and as calculating as Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. That is to say, he’s serving up British ‘Oxfords over brogues’ realness. On the surface it’s the exact role you would expect Colin Firth to play, but dig a little deeper and the idea of him as suave yet lethal Bond-esque action hero would have you choking on your tea. It grows exceedingly bizarre to watch Firth – that’s Mr fucking Darcy – brutally murder and execute people is some of the most cartoonish yet uber violent scenes on camera. It’s also awesome. In the same way Kick-Ass became the breakthrough vehicle for its then unknown stars Aaron Taylor-Johnson-Wood-That-Relationship-Is-Really-Weird and Chloe Grace Moretz, Kingsman will do the same for Taron Egerton as Eggsy and Sofia Boutella as Gazelle. Egerton especially brings authenticity, charm and natural comedic timing to the role as well as that something extra that has seen ATJW crossover endlessly from blockbuster to arthouse drama.
Kingsman: The Secret Service is as much a love letter to classic spy movies as it a fitting entry to the genre itself. Millar’s work is painfully self-aware at times, but like Kick-Ass Vaughn and Goldman have toned down the source material in a way that keeps its edginess yet actually improves the plot. They know they’re making a spy movie, the audience knows they’re watching a spy movie, and because of that they play with the conventions of the genre in way that dances dangerous close to breaking the fourth wall but never does. For heaven’s sake, there’s a puppy named JB after Jack Bauer (not James Bond or Jason Bourne, as Caine points out) and a sidekick with knives for bloody legs (Boutella). Everyone seems like they’re having fun – from the filmmakers down to Jackson – and because of that it’s a fun movie. An ultra violent, entertaining and endlessly re-watchable fun movie.
Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman have done it again, with their sixth collaboration giving audiences what they have come to expect from the duo: slicker than your adventure popcorn entertainment.
Maria Lewis – follow Maria on Twitter here: @moviemazz or on top-rating film podcast Pod Save Our Screen, available now on iTunes.