The ‘Kings’ of British Badassery

Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

The spy genre in film has always been a popular one, most notably with the “James Bond,” “Jason Bourne” and “Mission: Impossible” franchises. However, upon further examination of the genre’s turnout in the past decade, there’s been a bigger production of spy films that are more serious in tone than anything else. This isn’t entirely a bad thing because in recent years there have been some really good entries in the genre, like “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” and the criminally underrated “Hanna.”

What has been missing for a while in the genre  is the escapism entertainment factor. Thankfully, director Matthew Vaughn of “Kick-Ass” and “X-Men: First Class” fame has graced us with a brilliant return to full-on unabashed entertainment with “Kingsman: The Secret Service.”

The film stars Colin Firth in the lead as Harry Hart, a high-ranking spy of the Kingsmen, a secret agent organization in London. Having just lost one of their agents, Hart is tasked with recruiting a protégé that can become the new Kingsman. He believes he finds a worthy successor in street kid Gary “Eggsy” Unwin (Taron Egerton), the son of a late Kingsman that saved Hart’s life during a mission in the Middle East.

In the midst of training the new recruits, the Kingsmen are also tasked with investigating technology tycoon Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson), who has developed a new product that is philanthropic for its users, but internally shady for what its true aspirations might hide.

Up until this film’s release, I would’ve never pictured Colin Firth as an actor capable of playing a convincing badass. However, after a thrilling beat-down he levies on a group of vandals in a pub, the suave Englishman shut up any remaining skepticism I had. Furthermore, the fact that the 54-year-old Firth did most of his own stunts is even more miraculous when viewing the crazy fights he gets into with hordes of baddies.

Samuel L. Jackson is just as, if not more, entertaining than Firth as the main villain. It’s shocking to realize that outside all the stern lecturing and “motherfucker” insults he has induced on screen in his rich career, he hasn’t portrayed a lot of antagonists.

As Richmond, Jackson tones down the heavy swearing and trades it for an infectious lisp, in addition to a wardrobe that makes him look like a sibling of Spike Lee. His hilarious performance accentuates the film’s goofy, yet edgy structure to such a firm degree, which is especially heightened by the quirky ticks his character holds for the questionable morals related to certain situations.

Even amidst the star-studded cast, newcomer Taron Egerton delivers the first great breakthrough performance in 2015’s slate of films. He injects the right amount of youthful charisma into the lead character, but also does a great job at embodying the required charm and toughness that comes in playing a spy character.

In his third outing directing films based on comic books, Vaughn lulls the viewer once again into his hyper-stylized form of filmmaking that is full of passionate amusement left and right. As much as he likes to ramp up the pacing of “Kingsman’s” action, he as usual keeps a keen eye on making sure it’s filmed just right so the quick-fire editing will be ultimately comprehensible. His aesthetics as a filmmaker play especially well in a wild scene set in a Westboro Baptist-esque church, which is very well the best thing he’s directed in his career.

Aside from the action, Vaughn along with his regular writing partner Jane Goldman sprinkle bits of self-referential humor throughout. The clever nods they make to various tropes and films of the spy genre are delightful, but the comedy works best when the duo utilizes classic British humor to push boundaries.

With its highly charismatic cast and a fervent director that displays an ardent love for subverting the spy genre, “Kingsman: The Secret Service” is an utterly entertaining romp from start to finish and is above all a prime example of correctly executing an over-the-top spy film that doesn’t need to be too serious. Now if there was only a way to transport back in time and cast Colin Firth in more action roles.

 

RECOMMENDED: Stylish, edgy and just all-around fun, “Kingsman: The Secret Service” is the first really good movie to release in 2015.